First sentence: All true histories contain instruction; though, in some, the treasure may be hard to find, and when found, so trivial in quantity that the dry, shrivelled kernel scarcely compensates for the trouble of cracking the nut.
Premise/plot: Agnes Grey is a young woman who challenges herself to leave home and become a governess. Her family needs income, true, but her parents are not telling her to work or even wanting her to work. The Bloomfields are her first family and the Murrays are her second. Neither situation is ideal.
The Bloomfield children are out-of-control. Master Tom and Mary Ann rule the schoolroom and they know it. Agnes Grey has been given no authority to discipline the children. The parents expect her to rule without power or authority. Any misstep, any fault, any misbehavior--no matter how big or small--is her fault by default. She shouldn't call herself a governess if she can't manage naughty children. She learns quickly not to run to the parents with tales of misbehavior OR even with pleas for support. She'll receive no support from either parent. She doesn't last long at this first job, though the fact that she lasts more than a month or two says something about her fortitude.
While staying with the Murrays, Agnes Grey meets a curate, Edward Weston. These two occasionally speak with one another. What little she knows about him is enough to warm her heart and make her giddy. She doesn't hope that he like-likes her in return. But she has heart-eyes for him for sure.
Will Agnes Grey remain in the schoolroom for ever? Do governesses ever get happily ever after endings?
My thoughts: I loved, loved, LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this one. Agnes Grey is a true kindred spirit. And her ideals are my ideals. I too would find Edward Weston swoon-worthy. She's a good woman who often finds herself in difficult circumstances. She has strong values, strong morals, strong beliefs. She knows right from wrong. She believes that children should be trained--disciplined. Boys and girls need to learn right from wrong, need to have their behavior corrected, need to apologize when they've misbehaved, need to learn kindness and compassion, need to take responsibility for what they say and do.
One of my favorite characters is Nancy Brown, a poor cottager that receives visits from Agnes Grey and Mr. Weston. Both read Scripture to her.
On being a governess:
My pupils had no more notion of obedience than a wild, unbroken colt. The habitual fear of their father's peevish temper, and the dread of the punishments he was wont to inflict when irritated, kept them generally within bounds in his immediate presence. The girls, too, had some fear of their mother's anger; and the boy might occasionally he bribed to do as she bid him by the hope of reward; but I had no rewards to offer, and as for punishments, I was given to understand, the parents reserved that privilege to themselves; and yet they expected me to keep my pupils in order. (25)
To the difficulty of preventing him from doing what he ought not, was added that of forcing him to do what he ought. (26)
Patience, Firmness, and Perseverance were my only weapons; and these I resolved to use to the utmost. (26)
If I were quiet at the moment, I was conniving at their disorderly conduct, if, (as was frequently the case,) I happened to be exalting my voice to enforce order, I was using undue violence, and setting the girls a bad example by such ungentleness of tone and language. (38)
You cannot expect stone to be as pliable as clay. (51) [Agnes' mother gives her daughter counsel.]Rosalie and Agnes
"Oh, I don't mind his being wicked [Sir Thomas Ashby]; he's all the better for that; and as for disliking him--I shouldn't greatly object to being Lady Ashby of Ashby Park, if I must marry; but if I could always be young, I would be always single. I should like to enjoy myself thoroughly, and coquet with all the world, till I am on the verge of being called an old maid; and then, to escape the infamy of that, after having made ten thousand conquests, to break all their hearts save one, by marrying some high-born, rich, indulgent husband, whom, on the other hand, fifty ladies were dying to have." "Well, as long as you entertain those views, keep single by all means, and never marry at all, not even to escape the infamy of old-maidenhood." (77-8)Agnes and Nancy
"Well, Miss Grey, if it's all the same to you, I'd like to hear that chapter in the First Epistle of Saint John, that says, 'God is love, and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.'" With a little searching I found these words in the fourth chapter. When I came to the seventh verse she interrupted me, and with needless apologies for such a liberty, desired me to read it very slowly, that she might take it all in, and dwell on every word; hoping I would excuse her as she was but a simple body. "The wisest person," I replied, "might think over each of these verses for an hour, and be all the better for it; and I would rather read them slowly than not." (87)Mr. Weston and Nancy
‘“Well,” says he, “you know the first and great commandment—and the second, which is like unto it—on which two commandments hang all the law and the prophets? You say you cannot love God; but it strikes me that if you rightly consider who and what He is, you cannot help it. He is your father, your best friend: every blessing, everything good, pleasant, or useful, comes from Him; and everything evil, everything you have reason to hate, to shun, or to fear, comes from Satan—His enemy as well as ours. And for this cause was God manifest in the flesh, that He might destroy the works of the Devil: in one word, God is love; and the more of love we have within us, the nearer we are to Him and the more of His spirit we possess.”Mr. Weston and Agnes
‘“Well, sir,” I said, “if I can always think on these things, I think I might well love God: but how can I love my neighbours, when they vex me, and be so contrary and sinful as some on ’em is?”
‘“It may seem a hard matter,” says he, “to love our neighbours, who have so much of what is evil about them, and whose faults so often awaken the evil that lingers within ourselves; but remember that He made them, and He loves them; and whosoever loveth him that begat, loveth him that is begotten also. And if God so loveth us, that He gave His only begotten Son to die for us, we ought also to love one another. But if you cannot feel positive affection for those who do not care for you, you can at least try to do to them as you would they should do unto you: you can endeavour to pity their failings and excuse their offences, and to do all the good you can to those about you. And if you accustom yourself to this, Nancy, the very effort itself will make you love them in some degree—to say nothing of the goodwill your kindness would beget in them, though they might have little else that is good about them. If we love God and wish to serve Him, let us try to be like Him, to do His work, to labour for His glory—which is the good of man—to hasten the coming of His kingdom, which is the peace and happiness of all the world: however powerless we may seem to be, in doing all the good we can through life, the humblest of us may do much towards it: and let us dwell in love, that He may dwell in us and we in Him. The more happiness we bestow, the more we shall receive, even here; and the greater will be our reward in heaven when we rest from our labours.” I believe, Miss, them is his very words, for I’ve thought ’em ower many a time. An’ then he took that Bible, an’ read bits here and there, an’ explained ’em as clear as the day: and it seemed like as a new light broke in on my soul; an’ I felt fair aglow about my heart, an’ only wished poor Bill an’ all the world could ha’ been there, an’ heard it all, and rejoiced wi’ me. (92-3)
‘I like wild-flowers,’ said he; ‘others I don’t care about, because I have no particular associations connected with them—except one or two. What are your favourite flowers?’Rosalie and Agnes
‘Primroses, bluebells, and heath-blossoms.’
‘No; because, as you say, I have no particular associations connected with them; for there are no sweet violets among the hills and valleys round my home.’
‘It must be a great consolation to you to have a home, Miss Grey,’ observed my companion after a short pause: ‘however remote, or however seldom visited, still it is something to look to.’
‘It is so much that I think I could not live without it,’ replied I, with an enthusiasm of which I immediately repented; for I thought it must have sounded essentially silly.
‘Oh, yes, you could,’ said he, with a thoughtful smile. ‘The ties that bind us to life are tougher than you imagine, or than anyone can who has not felt how roughly they may be pulled without breaking. You might be miserable without a home, but even you could live; and not so miserably as you suppose. The human heart is like india-rubber; a little swells it, but a great deal will not burst it. If “little more than nothing will disturb it, little less than all things will suffice” to break it. As in the outer members of our frame, there is a vital power inherent in itself that strengthens it against external violence. Every blow that shakes it will serve to harden it against a future stroke; as constant labour thickens the skin of the hand, and strengthens its muscles instead of wasting them away: so that a day of arduous toil, that might excoriate a lady’s palm, would make no sensible impression on that of a hardy ploughman.
‘I speak from experience—partly my own. There was a time when I thought as you do—at least, I was fully persuaded that home and its affections were the only things that made life tolerable: that, if deprived of these, existence would become a burden hard to be endured; but now I have no home—unless you would dignify my two hired rooms at Horton by such a name;—and not twelve months ago I lost the last and dearest of my early friends; and yet, not only I live, but I am not wholly destitute of hope and comfort, even for this life: though I must acknowledge that I can seldom enter even an humble cottage at the close of day, and see its inhabitants peaceably gathered around their cheerful hearth, without a feeling almost of envy at their domestic enjoyment.’
‘You don’t know what happiness lies before you yet,’ said I: ‘you are now only in the commencement of your journey.’
‘The best of happiness,’ replied he, ‘is mine already—the power and the will to be useful.’
She left me, offended at my want of sympathy, and thinking, no doubt, that I envied her. I did not—at least, I firmly believed I did not. I was sorry for her; I was amazed, disgusted at her heartless vanity; I wondered why so much beauty should be given to those who made so bad a use of it, and denied to some who would make it a benefit to both themselves and others.Mr. Weston and Agnes
But, God knows best, I concluded. There are, I suppose, some men as vain, as selfish, and as heartless as she is, and, perhaps, such women may be useful to punish them. (122)
‘I suppose it’s these things, Miss Grey, that make you think you could not live without a home?’Agnes on Rosalie
‘Not exactly. The fact is I am too socially disposed to be able to live contentedly without a friend; and as the only friends I have, or am likely to have, are at home, if it—or rather, if they were gone—I will not say I could not live—but I would rather not live in such a desolate world.’
‘But why do you say the only friends you are likely to have? Are you so unsociable that you cannot make friends?’
‘No, but I never made one yet; and in my present position there is no possibility of doing so, or even of forming a common acquaintance. The fault may be partly in myself, but I hope not altogether.’
‘The fault is partly in society, and partly, I should think, in your immediate neighbours: and partly, too, in yourself; for many ladies, in your position, would make themselves be noticed and accounted of. But your pupils should be companions for you in some degree; they cannot be many years younger than yourself.’
‘Oh, yes, they are good company sometimes; but I cannot call them friends, nor would they think of bestowing such a name on me—they have other companions better suited to their tastes.’
‘Perhaps you are too wise for them. How do you amuse yourself when alone—do you read much?’
‘Reading is my favourite occupation, when I have leisure for it and books to read.’
From speaking of books in general, he passed to different books in particular, and proceeded by rapid transitions from topic to topic, till several matters, both of taste and opinion, had been discussed considerably within the space of half an hour, but without the embellishment of many observations from himself; he being evidently less bent upon communicating his own thoughts and predilections, than on discovering mine. He had not the tact, or the art, to effect such a purpose by skilfully drawing out my sentiments or ideas through the real or apparent statement of his own, or leading the conversation by imperceptible gradations to such topics as he wished to advert to: but such gentle abruptness, and such single-minded straightforwardness, could not possibly offend me.
And when I saw this, and when I beheld her plunge more recklessly than ever into the depths of heartless coquetry, I had no more pity for her. ‘Come what will,’ I thought, ‘she deserves it. Sir Thomas cannot be too bad for her; and the sooner she is incapacitated from deceiving and injuring others the better.’ (137)Rosalie and Agnes
‘But could you not try to occupy his mind with something better; and engage him to give up such habits? I’m sure you have powers of persuasion, and qualifications for amusing a gentleman, which many ladies would be glad to possess.’Mr. Weston and Agnes
‘And so you think I would lay myself out for his amusement! No: that’s not my idea of a wife. It’s the husband’s part to please the wife, not hers to please him; and if he isn’t satisfied with her as she is—and thankful to possess her too—he isn’t worthy of her, that’s all. And as for persuasion, I assure you I shan’t trouble myself with that: I’ve enough to do to bear with him as he is, without attempting to work a reform. (177)
‘I expect to like my parish better a year or two hence, when I have worked certain reforms I have set my heart upon—or, at least, progressed some steps towards such an achievement. But you may congratulate me now; for I find it very agreeable to have a parish all to myself, with nobody to interfere with me—to thwart my plans or cripple my exertions: and besides, I have a respectable house in a rather pleasant neighbourhood, and three hundred pounds a year; and, in fact, I have nothing but solitude to complain of, and nothing but a companion to wish for.’Mr. Weston and Agnes
He looked at me as he concluded: and the flash of his dark eyes seemed to set my face on fire; greatly to my own discomfiture, for to evince confusion at such a juncture was intolerable. I made an effort, therefore, to remedy the evil, and disclaim all personal application of the remark by a hasty, ill-expressed reply, to the effect that, if he waited till he was well known in the neighbourhood, he might have numerous opportunities for supplying his want among the residents of F--- and its vicinity, or the visitors of A---, if he required so ample a choice: not considering the compliment implied by such an assertion, till his answer made me aware of it.
‘I am not so presumptuous as to believe that,’ said he, ‘though you tell it me; but if it were so, I am rather particular in my notions of a companion for life, and perhaps I might not find one to suit me among the ladies you mention.’
‘If you require perfection, you never will.’
‘I do not—I have no right to require it, as being so far from perfect myself.’ (186)
‘My house is desolate yet, Miss Grey,’ he smilingly observed, ‘and I am acquainted now with all the ladies in my parish, and several in this town too; and many others I know by sight and by report; but not one of them will suit me for a companion; in fact, there is only one person in the world that will: and that is yourself; and I want to know your decision?’Happy ending time!
‘Are you in earnest, Mr. Weston?’
‘In earnest! How could you think I should jest on such a subject?’
He laid his hand on mine, that rested on his arm: he must have felt it tremble—but it was no great matter now.
‘I hope I have not been too precipitate,’ he said, in a serious tone. ‘You must have known that it was not my way to flatter and talk soft nonsense, or even to speak the admiration that I felt; and that a single word or glance of mine meant more than the honied phrases and fervent protestations of most other men.’
I said something about not liking to leave my mother, and doing nothing without her consent.
‘I settled everything with Mrs. Grey, while you were putting on your bonnet,’ replied he. ‘She said I might have her consent, if I could obtain yours; and I asked her, in case I should be so happy, to come and live with us—for I was sure you would like it better. But she refused, saying she could now afford to employ an assistant, and would continue the school till she could purchase an annuity sufficient to maintain her in comfortable lodgings; and, meantime, she would spend her vacations alternately with us and your sister, and should be quite contented if you were happy. And so now I have overruled your objections on her account. Have you any other?’
‘You love me then?’ said be, fervently pressing my hand.
My Diary, from which I have compiled these pages, goes but little further. I could go on for years, but I will content myself with adding, that I shall never forget that glorious summer evening, and always remember with delight that steep hill, and the edge of the precipice where we stood together, watching the splendid sunset mirrored in the restless world of waters at our feet—with hearts filled with gratitude to heaven, and happiness, and love—almost too full for speech. (192)
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