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The title character is the younger daughter of a poor family, who seeks employment as a governess in order to help her parents make ends meet. This noble act of maturity on her part earns her nothing but disillusion, humiliation and hardship in the hands of the tyrannical children and over-indulgent parents of Wellwood House (Note the intriguing initials W.H., which stand for Wuthering Heights and Wildfell Hall in other Bronte books) and, later, Horton Lodge. For several chapters, Anne Bronte does not do much but--dare I say it?--complain about the lot of the Victorian governess. Though her portraits of the children and their parents were obviously drawn from reality, which certainly won sympathy from me, I wanted to tell her to "Get on with the story" many times.
The plot does pick up after the artful and exasperating Rosalie Murray has her "coming out" ball. Thoughtless rather than tyrannical, Rosalie has the most well-drawn character of all of Agnes' charges, which makes her such a great foil for Agnes. Rosalie delights in thinking that she could have any man she wishes and enjoys nothing more than toying with men's hearts. When she finds out that Agnes might be in love with the curate, Edward Weston, she makes every attempt to make Mr. Weston fall in love with _her_, thinking that it would be a grand joke to make Agnes miserable. Yet it is impossible to hate her, somehow. She steals every scene she is in; half the story is truly hers.
I am happy to say that both Rosalie and Agnes get what they deserve, which is, fittingly, what each explicitly asked and worked for. (Read that any way you wish--or better yet, read the book.) "Agnes Grey" has left me believing that we truly do sow what we reap and receive what we ask for.