The pleasure of possession: Situating desire in Anne Bronte's "Agnes Grey"

Marilyn Sheridan Gardner


Anne Bronte's Agnes Grey concerns the appropriation of female desire in mid-nineteenth century society. Agnes Grey is not only the story of Agnes's coming of age, but also a discourse on the paternal authority under which Agnes's maturity and eventual happiness must be achieved. Bronte assembles the development of Agnes's story in increments based upon the houses her heroine inhabits, as she constructs each residence in the novel to correspond to the chronological and emotional progression of Agnes toward maturity. Bronte depicts residences as emblematic displays of wealth where property mirrors a family's desires for prosperity and social rank. Management within different households--the expected responsibilities of fathers, mothers, children, servants-- enables Agnes's examination of gender roles in a variety of economic venues. Bronte's location of Agnes's quest for True Womanhood within intimate domestic enclosures particularizes the effects of culture and class on her heroine's contradictory desires for personal autonomy and societal approval.