I should actually be reviewing Hard Times by Charles Dickens in this entry, since I read it first, but I just finished Agnes Grey and it's fresh in my mind.
This was the only one of the Brontës' books I hadn't yet read. Not knowing what to expect between the brilliance of some of the Brontës' novels and the dullness of others, I just started reading with an open mind, or rather listening as it was an audio book. Although it lacks the mystery and atmosphere of Jane Eyre and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, it's still a really good read, especially if you're interested in reading about the lives of governesses in the 19th century. Having read Governess: The Lives and Times of the Real Jane Eyres by Ruth Bandon last year, Agnes Grey was doubly interesting. The story is a history of Agnes Grey, the daughter of a minister who loses everything speculating on a shipment of goods which sinks. Subsequently, the family is forced to look for other means of earning their living and Agnes' only possibility to to go for a governess. Agnes is an infinitely practical and realistic person. She knows life will not be easy, but sees no point in sitting at home hoping for a miracle, so she goes off to work.
Her positions, although carefully researched and considered, are nothing short of nightmares and emphasize the often helpless lots of governesses at the time. Many lacked both the support of the parents and the power to enforce their authority over their charges. Basically, the tried to walk a thin line between retaining their positions and their sanity. Agnes is forced to suppress all of her feelings and pride in order to remain employed. Her charges are arrogant, unruly and have no respect for anyone, including their own parents. The children even go so far as to intentionally make her life difficult for her; treating her more as a figure for sport than as a person of any importance in their lives. They thought nothing of humiliating and abusing her for their own entertainment.
Despite all of the hardships, Anne Brontë didn't allow the book to become the same sort of dour, dreary book that Villette and The Professor are. Agnes remains a positive person throughout all. She would have made a good role model for any young girl of the day as she trusted to hard work and perseverance to help her to improve her situation. Her realism forced her to firmly separate her day dreams from reality and focus on what was necessary for her and her family, yet she still had those dreams which endear her to the reader. You know she's holding out the same hope we all do in times of trouble that everything will be all right in the end. I liked Agnes and I liked the book. This will get a 5 star rating in my list.