Written when she was 26, Agnes Grey is Anne Bronte's first novel. It tells the story of a rector's daughter who has to earn her living as a governess. Drawing directly from her own experiences, Anne Bronte set out to describe the immense pressures that the governess' life involved: the frustration, the isolation, and the insensitive and cruel treatment on the part of employers and their families.
When a beautiful young woman, thought to be recently widowed, suddenly moves into the half ruined Wildfell Hall with her five year old son, young squire Gilbert Markham and the local residents are intrigued. Gilbert meets the aloof newcomer Helen Graham by chance, falls in love with her, and she with him. Their passion is held in check by her mysterious relationship with the handsome but cruel Arthur Huntingdon. Her dramatic flight from him is revealed in her journal – a story within a story.
Written when women---and workers generally---had few rights in England, Agnes Grey exposes the brutal inequities of the rigid class system in mid-19th-century Britain. Agnes comes from a respectable middle-class family, but their financial reverses have forced her to seek work as a governess.
Gilbert Markham is deeply intrigued by Helen Graham, a beautiful and secretive young woman who has moved into nearby Wildfell Hall with her young son. He is quick to offer Helen his friendship, but when her reclusive behaviour becomes the subject of local gossip and speculation, Gilbert begins to wonder whether his trust in her has been misplaced. It is only when she allows Gilbert to read her diary that the truth is revealed and the shocking details of the disastrous marriage she has left behind emerge.