romance

Review: Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte, Penguin Classics Edition, 1847, 251p.

4 out of 5 stars

So… this is a very belated and short review of Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte. I read Agnes months ago, enjoyed it, but never got around to my review. Usually, I wouldn’t bother reviewing so late, but I am making an effort to review all my Classics Club books.

This is my favourite work from the Bronte sisters that I have read so far. Jane Eyre was enjoyable and interesting if long winded, while Wuthering Heights nearly drove me to suicide. I was a bit worried when approaching Aggie, but I dove in headfirst.

There’s something intriguing about Agnes’ character. I identified with her, and thought she was very well written. She is certainly a product of her time, and reading this book as a historical text is really interesting. I think that I will take the time in the future to reread this text and try and dig a little deeper into the social context that is so interesting.

As a commentary on religion at the time, Agnes Grey is really telling. It’s so different from how we regard religion in common times, and as an atheist, seeing how religion is disseminated into all aspects of life is interesting and slightly scary. The romantic interest is deeply entwined in the church and that is strange because I don’t think you see that in mainstream modern novels.

I enjoyed Agnes Grey, but I wasn’t blown away by it. I will be looking for other works by Anne Bronte, because I enjoyed her writing style.

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My Personal War on Romance…

Ranty Runt's Rants

There have been some excellent posts recently about “romance shaming” and the battle that female authors have to be recognised and appreciated. Karin Kallmaker posted a series of great responses to an article published in the National Post, written by Jowita Bydlowska, that dismissed works in the romance genre as being lesser and lamenting that her novel wasn’t appreciated, as it should have been, by fans of these ‘lesser works.’

I’ve been sitting on a post for the past week about romance novels and cliché, but a series of very interesting articles about the romance genre made me reconsider my own viewpoint. The following is some of the thoughts that I have had about my reading habits in the past week.

I posted a comment to a very interesting blog about clichés that discussed which clichés readers enjoyed and  abhorred, and I noticed that my response was solely about clichés I disliked in the romance genre – a genre I hardly read.

Honestly, I don’t read any romance, and the few I have read over the years have been ones set by my English professors. I value the genre as much as any other, I acknowledge that many of the greatest works of literature fall under the umbrella of romance, but I just haven’t enjoyed reading them. I read action novels, thrillers and books about men saving the world from nuclear disaster. It is possible that I will come to love the romance genre as I currently love thrillers, I have no idea where my interests are headed, and I like the mystery of the journey. I considered all of this evidence of not dismissing romance, and thought to myself –  I’m obviously okay because I don’t hold romance in lesser esteem than other genres.

I WAS WRONG.

I’ve taken a critical look over my reading lists, and have been disappointed in myself. I may not read romance (which is fine!) but there was a more important group missing from my goodreads read list – female authors.

  1. Of the 24 books I’ve read this year so far, only 1 was written by a woman. (I disliked it because I chose to read from a genre I don’t usually enjoy.)
  2. Last year I read 4 books by female authors. FOUR. Two of the four were prescribed in my university reading list.
  3. I generally give lower ratings to female authors.

The above three points make me ill. They make me want to take action, however, I’m not about to read a bunch of classics written by women to fix this skew in my reading. I’ll rate them lower (I tend to rate classics on a more critical scale, genre fiction on level of enjoyment) and lead to more of point 3 occurring. Also, I want to help female authors in the now – the women who have written excellent books but can’t get a foot in the door because they are writing for male dominated genres.

I’ve never been asked to review my reading habits, and my excuse in my head for the imbalance in male vs. female authors, is that the genres I read are male dominated domains. Which is definitely true, you don’t see much military fiction or military non-fiction being written by women. But just because I don’t see it, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I need to hunt out female authors who write in the genres I enjoy reading, and add them to my reading list. Not only will I get to explore more authors, but they will also gain a reader (and sometime reviewer), and although I personally won’t change anything for that author, maybe if enough people make the same decision, it would.

I’d also like to think more critically about the characters in the books I read. In ‘Death Force,’ a book I finished a week ago, the main character had a female love interest (it’s always hetero-normative too) and she made breakfast for a group of soldiers. All throughout the book the men had been making breakfast for one another, so this didn’t seem odd or offensive – it was the following line (and I’ve returned the book to the library so this isn’t a direct quote) that jumped out and slapped me in the face – ‘that it was good for the men to have a woman cook them breakfasts, because it was like a piece of normalcy.’ Like seriously, WTF. The mental picture of every man having a woman in the kitchen cooking him breakfast, as is her job? I hate it.

I’d like more female characters in the books I read to be complex, involved and strong. I don’t think of women in terms of men’s love interests, and that is how we are always portrayed in action novels. I’m not saying I only want to read female characters saving the world single handed-ly, but on occasion maybe we sould be given that honour. Only if it doesn’t inconvenience the worldview of the author, of course.

 

Other installments in Ranty Runt’s Rants:

The worst time to love a reader
My personal war on romance
Breaking a blogging slump