65 pages 2 hours read

Anne Brontë

Agnes Grey

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1847

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Education and Maturity

From the opening pages, Agnes Grey regards education as less a matter of imparting knowledge than of shaping character. When Agnes first contemplates becoming a governess, she assumes that she does not require experience overseeing children but can simply draw on her own memories as a guide. She sees the work as a moral charge to shape her pupils, aiming to “make Virtue practicable, Instruction desirable, and Religion lovely and comprehensible” (10). Throughout the story, Agnes’s struggles as a governess have less to do with factual instruction than with convincing her students to adhere to her standards of behavior and ethics.

The Bloomfield children are a challenge not only because they have not had a governess before—at seven, Tom is too young for school; at six, Mary Ann has only just left the nursery, and young Fanny is only four—but also because they have not been taught to be obedient. The novel suggests that compliance is an essential element of education and character formation. Agnes’s concern is not so much that the children are ignorant, though she is surprised that Mary Ann can barely read, but that they refuse to learn or accede to her authority. They prove willful in choosing their entertainment, and Agnes is left to follow along or, worse yet, follow their instructions, which she considers “reversing the order of things” (19).