I thoroughly enjoyed Agnes Grey by the youngest of the Bronte sisters, Anne. Agnes’ astonishment at the values of the people she serves as governess, but faithful determination to do her best job, impressed me. I have encountered people similar to Rosalie and the Bloomfield family. Luckily, I’m not employed by such people and can simply chose to ignore them. Not so for Agnes, as a governess she lived with them and worked for them. At a Literary Luncheon discussion of Agnes Grey led by Dr. Alice Villasenor, she brought interesting insight to Agnes’ plight in English society.
The English governess occupied a unique and lonely role in society. She must be educated enough to teach others, but poor enough to needed a job. She wasn’t in the same social class, but she ate at with the family. She was present, but could be treated with disdain. She wasn’t a servant, but she wasn’t a friend. Agnes’ experience walking home from church exemplifies this quandary:
But when I did walk, this first half of the journey was generally a great nuisance to me. As none of the before-mentioned ladies and gentlemen ever noticed me, it was disagreeable to walk beside them, as if listening to what they said, or wishing to be thought one of them, while they talked over me or across, and if their eyes, in speaking, chanced to fall on me, it seemed as if they looked on vacancy – as if they either did not see me, or were very desirous to make it appear so.
It was disagreeable, too, to walk behind, and thus appear to acknowledge my own inferiority; for, in truth, I considered myself pretty nearly as good as the best of them, and wished them to know that I did so, and not to imagine that I looked upon myself a a mere domestic, who knew her own place too well to walk beside such fine ladies and gentlemen as they were . . . though her young ladies might choose to have her with them, and even condescend to converse with her, when no better company were at hand.
It was an isolated life, not part of the community of servants downstairs and excluded from the family life upstairs. Agnes goes weeks without having a conversation outside her role a governess.
The governess’ presence at the dinner table served as an uncomfortable warning and threat. The governess was a constant reminder that if a daughter didn’t marry, she would have to earn Read the rest of this entry »