Agnes Grey

Charlotte Brontë


Welcome to the world of Agnes Grey, a novel that paints a vivid picture of 19th-century English society through the eyes of its titular character. Written by Charlotte Brontë, a towering figure in English literature, this book is often overshadowed by her more famous work, Jane Eyre, but it shines brightly on its own merits. 📚✨

Charlotte Brontë, born in 1816, was part of the legendary Brontë family, a household of children who would grow up to leave an indelible mark on English literature. Agnes Grey, published in 1847, was her debut novel, rooted deeply in her own experiences as a governess. This context is crucial as it informs the realistic, sometimes stark portrayal of the challenges faced by women, especially those working to support themselves in a rigid class system.

The novel falls within the genre of social commentary, dissecting the nuances of Victorian society with a keen, critical eye. It’s a coming-of-age story that also serves as a critique of the limited opportunities available to women of the time. Through Agnes’s journey, Brontë explores themes of love, morality, and the quest for independence, making Agnes Grey not just a novel, but a piece of social commentary cloaked in the garb of a story about personal growth and resilience. 🌱👩‍🏫

Plot Summary

Agnes Grey is a novel that intricately weaves the themes of morality, social class, and the pursuit of love through its detailed plot. Here’s a breakdown of the main events:

Exposition — Agnes Grey, the daughter of a clergyman, decides to work as a governess to support her family after they fall into financial hardship. With dreams and a sheltered upbringing, she steps into the world, hopeful and naive.

Rising Action — Agnes’s first position is with the Bloomfield family, where she faces the challenges of unruly children and disinterested parents. Her ideals clash with the reality of her position, leading to her dismissal. Not deterred, Agnes then secures a position with the Murray family, where the challenges continue but differ in nature. She encounters spoiled children and the superficiality of the upper class but also forms meaningful relationships, including with Edward Weston, the local curate.

Climax — The relationship between Agnes and Mr. Weston grows, marking the emotional high point of the novel. However, their social positions and Agnes’s employment create barriers to their union. Agnes’s resilience is tested as she navigates her feelings and societal expectations.

Falling Action — Agnes leaves the Murray family and returns home, where she and her mother start a small school. This move marks a turning point for Agnes, allowing her independence and a sense of accomplishment.

Resolution — The novel concludes with Mr. Weston finding Agnes again, and, free from the constraints of her governess position, their love is finally allowed to flourish. They marry, symbolizing Agnes’s personal and emotional journey coming to a fulfilling end.

Throughout Agnes Grey, Charlotte Brontë explores the harsh realities faced by women, especially governesses, in Victorian England. Agnes’s journey from a naive young woman to a resilient, independent individual is a testament to her character and Brontë’s critique of the social and gender inequalities of her time.

Character Analysis

Agnes Grey presents a rich tapestry of characters, each embodying different facets of Victorian society. Here’s an in-depth look at the main characters and their development throughout the story:

Agnes Grey — Agnes is the protagonist, whose journey from a naive, idealistic young woman to a mature, independent individual forms the backbone of the novel. Initially, she is somewhat sheltered and unprepared for the harsh realities of her role as a governess among the upper classes. However, her inherent strength, morality, and resilience shine as she faces challenges, leading to significant personal growth. Her character embodies the themes of perseverance, the importance of self-reliance, and the quest for personal happiness within societal constraints.

The Bloomfield Family — The Bloomfields are Agnes’s first employers, illustrating the challenges governesses faced. The children are unruly and spoiled, reflecting poor parenting and the lack of discipline in some wealthy families. Their treatment of Agnes highlights the disregard and lack of respect for governesses, serving as a critique of the upper class’s moral and ethical standards.

The Murray Family — Agnes’s second employers offer a slightly different perspective on the upper class. While still challenging, this experience is more nuanced, showing not just the difficulties but also the complex dynamics within upper-class families. Rosalie and Matilda Murray, the daughters, embody different aspects of the societal expectations placed on women, with Rosalie’s flirtatiousness and pursuit of a socially advantageous marriage contrasted against Matilda’s tomboyish indifference to social norms.

Edward Weston — The local curate, Mr. Weston, stands in stark contrast to most other male characters in the novel. He is moral, kind, and sees Agnes as an equal, valuing her intelligence and strength of character. His relationship with Agnes symbolizes the possibility of genuine connection and mutual respect in a society often governed by superficial interactions.

Mrs. Grey — Agnes’s mother is a symbol of steadfastness and moral integrity. Despite the family’s financial difficulties, she supports Agnes’s decisions and serves as a moral compass, emphasizing the value of hard work, perseverance, and the importance of staying true to one’s principles.

Agnes GreyIdealistic, resilient, moralTo support her family and find personal fulfillmentGrows from naive to mature, learning to navigate and overcome societal challenges
The Bloomfield FamilySpoiled, disrespectful, shallowReflect societal values of the time; serve as a foil to AgnesServe to highlight the challenges faced by governesses and critique upper-class morals
The Murray FamilyComplex, embodying various societal expectationsIllustrate the diverse challenges and dynamics within upper-class familiesProvide a backdrop for Agnes’s moral and personal growth
Edward WestonKind, moral, respectfulSeeks genuine connection and values integrityRepresents the ideal of mutual respect and love in a constrained society
Mrs. GreySteadfast, moral, supportiveTo guide and support her daughterEmbodies the novel’s moral backbone and influences Agnes’s strong character

Through these characters, Charlotte Brontë offers a nuanced exploration of Victorian society, individual morality, and the pursuit of personal integrity against societal constraints.

Themes and Symbols

Agnes Grey by Charlotte Brontë delves deep into several pervasive themes and symbols, enriching the narrative and offering a critical lens on Victorian society. Let’s explore the most significant among them:

Social Class and Inequality — The novel meticulously portrays the rigid class structures of the time and their impact on individuals’ lives. Agnes’s experiences as a governess, positioned uniquely between the working class and the upper class, shed light on the isolation and disrespect faced by those in similar roles, highlighting the lack of mobility and rigid social barriers.

Women’s Independence and Identity — A central theme of Agnes Grey is the struggle for female autonomy and self-fulfillment within the constraints of societal expectations. Agnes’s journey towards independence and self-respect is emblematic of the broader struggle of women to carve out their own identities and destinies beyond the roles of wife and mother prescribed by society.

Morality vs. Social Expectations — The contrast between genuine morality and the superficial morals endorsed by society is starkly drawn. Agnes and Mr. Weston represent personal integrity and ethical living, often at odds with the shallow, appearance-focused values of the upper class families they interact with. This theme questions the true meaning of morality and virtue in a stratified society.

Education and Growth — Through the lens of Agnes’s role as a governess, the novel explores the theme of education not just in the academic sense but also in personal growth and moral development. The contrasting outcomes of children based on their upbringing critique the education system and parenting styles of the time.

Love and Marriage — Brontë contrasts the romantic ideal of love with the social institution of marriage, often used for economic or social gain. The relationship between Agnes and Mr. Weston, based on mutual respect and genuine affection, stands in stark contrast to the mercenary marriages pursued by characters like Rosalie Murray.


The Sea — Represents freedom and the vastness of opportunities beyond the confines of Agnes’s initial world. It symbolizes hope and the possibility of a future that transcends social limitations.

Birds — Frequently used to symbolize the plight of women, particularly Agnes, trapped in cages of societal expectations. Birds also reflect the desire for freedom and the ability to soar above societal constraints.

The Small School — Symbolizes independence and the fruition of Agnes’s aspirations. It represents the possibility of creating a space where genuine education and growth are prioritized over social standing.

Through these themes and symbols, Agnes Grey offers a poignant critique of Victorian society, particularly its treatment of women and the working class, while also presenting a narrative of personal growth, moral integrity, and the pursuit of genuine happiness.

Style and Tone

Charlotte Brontë’s Agnes Grey is marked by a distinct style and tone that contribute significantly to its mood and atmosphere, drawing readers into the introspective journey of its protagonist. Let’s break down these elements:

Realism — Brontë employs a realistic style that brings the characters and their social environments to life. The detailed descriptions of Agnes’s experiences as a governess within various households offer a window into the everyday realities and challenges faced by women in her position. This realism extends to the portrayal of the children’s behavior, the dynamics within the upper-class families, and the social practices of the time, grounding the narrative in a palpable sense of authenticity.

Reflective and Introspective Tone — The narrative is imbued with a reflective tone, largely due to its first-person perspective. Agnes’s introspections and reflections on her experiences, feelings, and the social injustices she witnesses lend a deeply personal and contemplative quality to the story. This tone invites readers to empathize with Agnes and consider the broader societal critiques being presented.

Critical and Observational — Alongside its reflective qualities, the narrative often adopts a critical tone, especially in its examination of social class, gender roles, and morality. Agnes, though gentle and compassionate, is also a keen observer of the flaws and hypocrisies of the society around her. This observational sharpness adds a layer of social critique to the personal narrative.

Moral and Didactic Elements — Brontë weaves moral considerations throughout the narrative, reflecting on virtue, integrity, and the true meaning of happiness and fulfillment. These didactic elements are not heavy-handed but are instead integrated into Agnes’s personal growth and her interactions with others, highlighting the novel’s moral compass.

Emotional Resonance — Despite its critical eye, the novel maintains a tone of hope and resilience. The emotional journey of Agnes, from naivety through hardship to independence and love, resonates deeply, offering a nuanced exploration of the human spirit.

In summary, the style and tone of Agnes Grey serve to both depict the socio-economic realities of Victorian England and explore the inner life of its protagonist. Brontë’s use of realism, combined with a reflective and critical tone, creates a compelling narrative that is both a personal story of growth and a critique of societal norms.

Literary Devices used in Agnes Grey

In Agnes Grey, Charlotte Brontë skillfully employs a variety of literary devices to enhance the narrative, develop characters, and underscore the novel’s themes. Here are the top 10 devices used:

  1. Metaphor — Brontë frequently uses metaphors to draw comparisons between her characters’ experiences and broader societal issues, such as likening Agnes’s feeling of confinement as a governess to a bird trapped in a cage, symbolizing the lack of freedom experienced by women.
  2. Simile — Similes are used to make descriptive passages more vivid. For example, Agnes’s initial optimism about becoming a governess is compared to a child’s naive excitement, “like a child who sets off on a long journey and imagines the end will be reached at the first turn of the road.”
  3. IronyIrony is evident in the contrast between Agnes’s expectations of her role as a governess and the reality she faces, highlighting the societal undervaluation of women’s work and the discrepancy between appearance and reality in Victorian society.
  4. Symbolism — Symbols, such as the sea and birds, are used throughout the novel to represent themes of freedom and the desire to escape societal constraints.
  5. Imagery — Brontë’s use of imagery, especially in describing the bleak landscapes and the stark contrasts between the opulence of the upper classes and the modesty of Agnes’s world, serves to emphasize the disparities in Victorian society.
  6. Personification — Inanimate objects or abstract concepts are often personified, adding depth to the narrative. For example, nature is frequently described as a companion or an observer to Agnes’s thoughts and emotions, linking her inner world with the external environment.
  7. Foreshadowing — Early events or descriptions in the novel often hint at future developments, such as Agnes’s initial observation of the Bloomfield children’s cruelty foreshadowing the challenges she will face in her role.
  8. Alliteration — The use of alliteration adds a poetic quality to the prose and helps to emphasize certain descriptions or ideas, making the narrative more engaging.
  9. Flashback — Brontë uses flashbacks to provide background information on Agnes’s family and her motivations for becoming a governess, enriching the character development and setting the stage for the narrative.
  10. Dialogue — Through dialogue, Brontë reveals the personalities and values of the characters, highlighting the social conventions of the time and the challenges Agnes faces in navigating these.

Each of these literary devices plays a crucial role in weaving the complex fabric of Agnes Grey, enriching the narrative and deepening the reader’s engagement with the story and its themes.

Literary Devices Examples

Let’s explore examples and explanations for each of the top 10 literary devices used in Agnes Grey by Charlotte Brontë, providing insight into how these techniques enhance the novel’s narrative and thematic depth.


Agnes describing her situation as feeling “like a bird in a cage”This metaphor illustrates Agnes’s feelings of confinement and restriction in her role as a governess, symbolizing the limited freedom and autonomy available to women in Victorian society.
The comparison of social conventions to “chains”Reflects the restrictive nature of societal expectations on individuals, particularly women, emphasizing how these conventions limit personal freedom and self-expression.
Describing the landscape as “a mirror to my own heart”Suggests how Agnes’s emotional state is reflected in her surroundings, using the natural world as a metaphor for her inner turmoil and longing for freedom.


“The sea seemed to roll its waves languidly, like a weary creature.”This simile not only vividly describes the sea but also mirrors Agnes’s own feelings of weariness and longing, enhancing the emotional depth of the narrative.
“Rosalie Murray was like a beautiful picture”Highlights the superficial beauty and the societal expectation of women to be visually pleasing, contrasting outward appearance with inner substance.
“My heart began to throb like a frightened bird’s.”Illustrates Agnes’s anxiety and fear in certain situations, making her emotional experiences relatable to the reader through the use of a common simile.


Agnes’s optimistic view of her future role contrasted with the harsh reality she facesThe irony here underscores the naive expectations versus the grim reality of working women, critiquing societal attitudes towards women’s roles and work.
The idealized perception of the upper class contrasted with Agnes’s experiencesDemonstrates the irony of societal admiration for the upper class, despite their moral and ethical failings, highlighting the discrepancy between appearance and reality.


The sea as a symbol of freedom and escapeRepresents the vast possibilities and hopes beyond Agnes’s immediate circumstances, symbolizing her desire for a life beyond societal constraints.
Birds in cagesSymbolize the confinement and lack of freedom experienced by women, reflecting on the broader theme of societal restrictions on women’s autonomy.


Detailed descriptions of the bleak moorlands surrounding Agnes’s homeThese vivid images of the landscape reflect Agnes’s isolation and the stark reality of her situation, enhancing the mood of the novel.
The luxurious, opulent interiors of the Murray householdContrast sharply with Agnes’s modest home, highlighting the economic disparities and social class differences central to the novel’s critique.


“The wind whispered secrets to the fields.”Personifying the wind imbues the natural world with a sense of companionship and solace for Agnes, reflecting her connection to nature amidst societal isolation.


Agnes’s early encounters with the Bloomfield children’s crueltyForeshadows the challenges and moral dilemmas she will face, setting the stage for the novel’s exploration of morality and ethics.


“The silent stars shone softly down”The use of alliteration here adds a lyrical quality to the prose, enhancing the description of the scene and contributing to the overall atmosphere of the novel.


Agnes reflecting on her decision to become a governessProvides background on her motivations and family situation, adding depth to her character and contextualizing her actions within the narrative.


Conversations between Agnes and the Murray childrenReveals the children’s personalities and the social values instilled in them, highlighting the challenges Agnes faces in imparting moral lessons within a superficial society.

Through these examples, we see how Charlotte Brontë’s use of literary devices in Agnes Grey not only enriches the storytelling but also deepens the thematic exploration of the novel, engaging readers on multiple levels.

Agnes Grey – FAQs

Q: What is the primary theme of Agnes Grey?
A: The primary theme of Agnes Grey revolves around social class and gender inequality, highlighting the struggles of women, particularly governesses, in Victorian England. It explores themes of morality, the pursuit of personal independence, and the contrast between superficial societal norms and genuine human values.

Q: Who is the protagonist of Agnes Grey?
A: The protagonist of Agnes Grey is Agnes Grey herself, a young woman who becomes a governess to support her family after they fall into financial difficulty. The novel follows her experiences and growth in this challenging role.

Q: How does Charlotte Brontë portray the upper class in Agnes Grey?
A: Charlotte Brontë portrays the upper class in Agnes Grey critically, highlighting their superficiality, moral laxity, and the often cruel and dismissive treatment of their inferiors, particularly governesses. The depiction serves as a critique of the class system and societal values of the time.

Q: What significance does the character of Edward Weston have in the novel?
A: Edward Weston, the curate, represents moral integrity and genuine kindness in contrast to many other male characters in the novel. His relationship with Agnes Grey symbolizes hope for genuine love and partnership based on mutual respect and shared values, counteracting the novel’s critique of marriage as a social contract.

Q: How does Agnes Grey end?
A: Agnes Grey ends on a hopeful note, with Agnes achieving personal and financial independence through the establishment of a small school with her mother. She also marries Edward Weston, realizing a relationship based on mutual love and respect, which contrasts with the marriages of convenience and social ambition depicted elsewhere in the novel.

Q: What role does the setting play in Agnes Grey?
A: The settings in Agnes Grey, from the bleakness of the Grey family home to the opulent households of Agnes’s employers, reflect the contrasting social and economic realities of Victorian England. The natural landscapes, particularly the sea, serve as symbols of freedom and the possibility of transcending societal constraints.

Q: Can Agnes Grey be considered a feminist novel?
A: Yes, Agnes Grey can be considered a feminist novel due to its exploration of women’s independence, critique of gender inequalities, and portrayal of the protagonist’s journey towards self-fulfillment and professional success in the face of societal constraints. It addresses issues relevant to women’s rights and personal autonomy.


What motivates Agnes Grey to become a governess?Love of teachingDesire for adventureFinancial necessitySocial ambition
Who is the first family Agnes works for as a governess?The BloomfieldsThe MurraysThe WestonsThe Smiths
How does Agnes Grey meet Edward Weston?At a social gatheringThrough her employersAt churchIn a village shop
What symbolizes Agnes’s hope for a better future?A locked diaryThe seaA bird in flightA blooming rose
What is a major theme of the novel?The supernaturalSocial class and inequalityMedieval chivalryTechnological advancement
Which character best embodies the superficial values of the upper class?Agnes GreyRosalie MurrayEdward WestonMrs. Grey
What does Agnes do after leaving her position as a governess?Travels abroadStarts a small schoolBecomes a novelistOpens a bakery
How does the novel critique the institution of marriage?By showing happy marriages onlyThrough marriages based on loveThrough marriages of convenience for social or economic gainBy avoiding the topic altogether
Which literary device is frequently used to describe the landscapes in the novel?OnomatopoeiaImageryHyperboleSarcasm
What outcome does Agnes’s relationship with Edward Weston have?They never meet againThey become enemiesThey get marriedThey become business partners


  1. C – Financial necessity
  2. A – The Bloomfields
  3. C – At church
  4. B – The sea
  5. B – Social class and inequality
  6. B – Rosalie Murray
  7. B – Starts a small school
  8. C – Through marriages of convenience for social or economic gain
  9. BImagery
  10. C – They get married

This quiz covers key aspects of Agnes Grey, testing comprehension of its plot, themes, characters, and literary devices.


Spot the Literary Devices

Below is a paragraph from Agnes Grey. Identify the literary devices used in this passage:

“The bleak winds of March had not yet done their work, and the chill rain that falls before the coming of the spring had been swept through the desolate fields by gusts of wind. The landscape, with its gray sky, leafless trees, and the sodden earth, spoke of the harshness yet to come before the renewal of life. Yet, in this seemingly inhospitable environment, there lay a promise of regeneration and growth, a subtle reminder that after hardship, there comes a time of renewal and hope.”


  1. Imagery – The detailed description of the landscape and weather (“bleak winds of March”, “chill rain”, “desolate fields”, “gray sky, leafless trees, and the sodden earth”) vividly paints the scene, allowing readers to visualize the setting and feel the cold, damp atmosphere.
  2. Personification – The month of March and the rain are given human qualities, with March doing “their work” and the rain being “swept through the desolate fields by gusts of wind”, which adds depth to the description and emphasizes the impact of the weather on the landscape.
  3. Symbolism – The harsh weather and barren landscape symbolize the difficulties and hardships faced by the characters, particularly Agnes, in the novel. Meanwhile, the “promise of regeneration and growth” symbolizes hope and the potential for personal growth and renewal after facing challenges.
  4. Foreshadowing – The mention of “the harshness yet to come before the renewal of life” and the “promise of regeneration and growth” foreshadows the personal and emotional growth that characters, especially Agnes, will undergo, suggesting that despite current hardships, there is potential for positive change and development.

This exercise encourages students to delve deeper into Brontë’s use of literary devices in Agnes Grey, enhancing their understanding and appreciation of the novel’s rich literary techniques.