BBC Radio 7, 28 August 2009
Another rite-of-passage tale, this time of a young woman (Poppy Miller)
who leaves her family for a new life as a governess but finds that life in service is nothing like she imagines. This proves
a source of satisfaction for her over-protective parents, who believe she is neither intelligent nor mature enough to survive
on her own. Like William Crimsworth in Charlotte Bronte's The Professor, Agnes finds her niche in life
as a schoolteacher, supported by an able partner, Mr. Weston (Martin Reeve) who treats her on her own terms rather than constructing
her according to his own images as a daughter, servant or general dogsbody.
In Nandita Ghosh's production Agnes was portrayed as someone acquiring understanding
through suffering. This was especially evident when she became governess to Miss Murray (Alison Daly), a supposedly well-to-do
young woman who expected Agnes to respond to her every whim. In truth Miss Murray was as much of a fantasist as Agnes had
been at the beginning of the story, believing herself to be sexually attractive when she was nothing more than an
immature adolescent. However, unlike Agnes, Miss Murray did not undergo a process of growth; she ended up being trapped in
a loveless marriage with a much older man. The adaptation ended with Miss Murray reading out a letter calling for Agnes to
run to her side and recreate what life had been like "in the old days," when Miss Murray was in authority and Agnes fulfilled
a servant's role. The irony behind this request was obvious; having found security for herself, Agnes had no need to
listen to Miss Murray any more.
The moral of this tale was clear - even if people laugh at you, deride you, or put
you down, do not listen to them. Rather people should carry on and try to achieve their goals, overcoming any obstacles that
might be put in their way. This is especially important for young women like Agnes, brought up in the safe yet constricting
environment of a lower middle-class home, where they are forced to observe their parents' limited aspirations. Such advice
is as important today as it was when Bronte wrote her work nearly two centuries ago.