Places: Agnes Grey

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1847

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Domestic realism

Time of work: Mid-nineteenth century

Places DiscussedParsonage

Parsonage. Agnes GreyFamily home in an unnamed village in the north of England, that is provided to Agnes’s father because he is the parish priest. It is portrayed as modest but well-furnished and comfortable. The landscape is moorland, with narrow valleys, streams, and woods. Though neither the landscape nor her father’s labors as priest in the community are described in any detail, the parallels to Anne Brontë’s own parsonage home in Haworth in the Yorkshire Dales are very strong, although Haworth was somewhat less rural than Agnes’s home. Agnes and her mother are forced to leave the parsonage after her father’s death, as the house is owned by the church.

Wellwood

Wellwood. Newly built house of Mr. Bloomfield, the nouveau riche purse-proud manufacturer, whose wife first employs Agnes as governess to her two older children. Situated some twenty miles from the parsonage, it has well laid out grounds and woods with a large garden. It is Agnes’s home for a year until she is dismissed for incompetence. Brontë’s first post as governess at Blake Hall, Mirfield, seems to have served as material for the portrayal of Wellwood.

Horton Lodge

Horton Lodge. Home of Mr. Murray, Agnes’s second employer, located near O––, seventy miles away from the parsonage. O–– itself is a large town, but not in an industrial area. Horton Lodge is older and larger than Wellwood, with a deer park. The grounds are much more established, with fine old trees. It stands in fertile country, with green lanes and hedgerows, as opposed to the stone walls more typical of Yorkshire. Agnes finds its flatness boring after the moors of her hometown. Here she tutors the two girls of the family, Rosalie and Matilda, and, until they are sent away to school, the two younger boys. In the estate lie a number of cottages and farmhouses, at times visited by Agnes and the Murray girls to aid the sick and destitute. Horton Lodge is almost certainly modeled on Brontë’s second post as governess to the Robinson family at Thorp Green, and O–– is almost certainly York itself.

Horton

Horton. Village briefly described in the novel, whose main focal point is the parish church, lying two miles from the lodge. The Murrays attend regularly, sometimes by coach, sometimes on foot. It is here that Mr. Weston is appointed curate, assistant to the vicar, Mr. Hatfield. By contrast to Hatfield, Weston preaches evangelically and visits the poor with real compassion. In the cottage of the poor Nancy Brown, Agnes first has the opportunity to make his acquaintance.

Ashby Park

Ashby Park. Stately home of Sir Thomas Ashby and his mother, situated ten miles from Horton Lodge. Sir Thomas is an eligible bachelor, even though he has lived a somewhat dissolute life. It has been generally supposed he would propose to Rosalie Murray, which he dutifully does at a society ball held there. Thus Rosalie becomes Lady Ashby. When Agnes visits her, she describes it as commodious and elegant, standing in beautiful parkland, with herds of deer and ancient woodland. Rosalie means Agnes to be impressed by its magnificence; in fact, she is not. Underneath her pride in its grandeur, Rosalie regards it as bleak and isolated. She would much rather be in London, enjoying high society life. Her description of her husband’s behavior is not dissimilar to the account of Mr. Huntingdon in Brontë’s other novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848). Brontë’s sojourn with the wealthy Robinsons had given her much material for her descriptions of country gentry.

A––

A––. Seaside town in which Agnes and her mother decide to set up a small girls’ school after the death of Mr. Grey. The school itself is situated in a rented house on the edge of town. The house lies some way from the beach, where Agnes loves to walk either with her students or with her mother. It is on one such early morning walk along the beach that she again meets Mr. Weston, who has recently become vicar of F––, a village only two miles away. The town is certainly modeled on Scarborough, a fashionable seaside resort on the Yorkshire coast. Brontë frequently vacationed there, especially with the Robinson family. She also died there. Agnes’s description of its promontory, cliffs surrounding the bay and the hills behind match the description of Scarborough exactly. The latter town is also mentioned in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

BibliographyBell, A. Craig. The Novels of Anne Brontë. Braunton, England: Merlin Books, 1992. A critical study providing a general introduction to Brontë’s work. Includes discussion of the novels under the headings “Sources,” “Style and Structure,” and “Characters.”Chitham, Edward. A Life of Anne Brontë. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1991. This biography reexamines sources of previous biographies and guards against indiscriminate use of novels and poems for the purpose of biographical study. Explains the composition of Agnes Grey and distinguishes its autobiographical and fictional elements.Eagleton, Terry. Myths of Power: A Marxist Study of the Brontës. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1975. A significant reading by a major Marxist critic. Analyzes social implications of Agnes Grey and its triadic structure of pious heroine, morally lax upper-class man, and principled hero. Maintains that the novel connects social and economic issues with moral principles and inculcates bourgeois virtues of piety, plainness, duty, and sobriety.Langland, Elizabeth. Anne Brontë: The Other One. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes & Noble, 1989. The best book-length critical study of Anne Brontë. Examines Brontë’s innovations in theme and technique, identifies her literary precursors, and analyzes the relationships between the novels of all three Brontë sisters. Treats Agnes Grey as a novel of female development and stresses its feminist principles and realism.Scott, P. J. M. Anne Brontë: A New Critical Assessment. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes & Noble, 1983. Analyzes themes and characters with particular emphasis on moral issues and on Agnes’ learning to cope with the realities of life. Includes close reading and explication of a number of passages.
Categories: Places