The Sands
Agnes has just resigned from Horton Lodge (alias Thorp Green Hall), having spent three years there as governess to the Murray children. She has joined her mother, whom she will assist in teaching at their newly established, private boarding school for girls - in Scarborough (although Anne names the resort only as 'A------'). Throughout the early 1840s, the three Brontë sisters were devising plans to open a school of their own. Various ideas for locations were considered, including their own home - the Parsonage in Haworth; Charlotte also suggested the seaside resort of Bridlington, where she had spent several weeks holiday with Ellen Nussey in the autumn of 1839. Anne dreamed of situating the school at Scarborough.33n  In her novel, Agnes Grey, she located the school on the main road entering the town: the corresponding road in Scarborough was then Falsgrave Walk; though today it is named Westborough - and this forms part of the 'A64' road as it enters the resort.34n

The penultimate chapter of Agnes Grey:


'CHAPTER XXIV.

THE SANDS.

Our school was not situated in the heart of the town: on entering A----- from the north west there is a row of respectable looking houses, on each side of the broad, white road, with narrow slips of garden-ground before them, Venetian blinds to the windows, and a flight of steps leading to each trim, brass-handled door. In one of the largest of these habitations dwelt my mother and I, with such young ladies as our friends and the public chose to commit to our charge. Consequently, we were a considerable distance from the sea, and divided from it by a labyrinth of streets and houses. But the sea was my delight; and I would often gladly pierce the town to obtain the pleasure of a walk beside it, whether with the pupils, or alone with my mother during the vacations. It was delightful to me at all times and seasons, but especially in the wild commotion of a rough sea breeze, and in the brilliant freshness of a summer morning.

I awoke early on the third morning after my return from Ashby Park -- the sun was shining through the blind, and I thought how pleasant it would be to pass through the quiet town and take a solitary ramble on the sands while half the world was in bed. I was not long in forming the resolution, nor slow to act upon it. Of course I would not disturb my mother, so I stole noiselessly downstairs, and quietly unfastened the door. I was dressed, down, and out, when the church clock struck a quarter to six. There was a feeling of freshness and vigour in the very streets, and when I got free of the town, when my foot was on the sands and my face towards the broad, bright bay, no language can describe the effect of the deep, clear azure of the sky and ocean, the bright morning sunshine on the semi-circular barrier of craggy cliffs surmounted by green swelling hills, and on the smooth wide, white sands, and the low rocks out at sea -- looking, with their clothing of weeds and moss, like little grass grown islands -- and above all, on the brilliant, sparkling waves.

'. . the low rocks out at sea. .' (1997)

'. . and the low rocks out at sea - looking, with their clothing of weeds and moss, like little grass-grown islands . .'

And then, the unspeakable purity and freshness of the air !  there was just enough heat to enhance the value of the breeze, and just enough wind to keep the whole sea in motion, to make the waves come bounding to the shore, foaming and sparkling, as if wild with glee. Nothing else was stirring -- no living creature was visible besides myself. My footsteps were the first to press the firm, unbroken sands; - - nothing before had trampled them since last night's flowing tide had obliterated the deepest marks of yesterday, and left it fair and even, except where the subsiding water had left behind it the traces of dimpled pools and little running streams.

Refreshed, delighted, invigorated, I walked along, forgetting all my cares, feeling as if I had wings to my feet, and could go at least forty miles without fatigue, and experiencing a sense of exhilaration to which I had been an entire stranger since the days of early youth. About half past six, however, the grooms began to come down to air their masters' horses -- first one, and then another, till there were some dozen horses and five or six riders: but that need not trouble me, for they would not come as far as the low rocks which I was now approaching. When I had reached these, and walked over the moist, slippery seaweed (at the risk of floundering into one of the numerous pools of clear, salt water that lay between them), to a little mossy promontory with the sea splashing round it, I looked back again to see who next was stirring.

'. . a little mossy promontory with the sea splashing round it . .' (1997)

'. . . they would not come as far as the low rocks I was now approaching. When I had reached these, and walked over the moist, slippery seaweed (at the risk of floundering into one of the numerous pools of clear, salt water that lay between them), to a little mossy promontory with the sea splashing round it . . .' 35n

Still, there were only the early grooms with their horses, and one gentleman with a little dark speck of a dog running before him, and one water cart coming out of the town to get water for the baths. In another minute or two, the distant bathing machines would begin to move, and then the elderly gentlemen of regular habits, and sober Quaker ladies would be coming to take their salutary morning walks. But however interesting such a scene might be, I could not wait to witness it, for the sun and the sea so dazzled my eyes in that direction, that I could but afford one glance; and then I turned again to delight myself with the sight and the sound of the sea dashing against my promontory -- with no prodigious force, for the swell was broken by the tangled sea weed and the unseen rocks beneath; otherwise I should soon have been deluged with spray.'


Indeed, the sun reflecting from the sea does dazzle ones eyes when looking back across the bay from these rocks in the early morning - the way Anne describes here. Unfortunately, I have not yet managed to obtain a suitable photograph displaying this effect - and highlighting the uncanny precision with which these scenes are depicted by Anne.57n


'But the tide was coming in; the water was rising; the gulfs and lakes were filling; the straits were widening, it was time to seek some safer footing; so I walked, skipped, and stumbled back to the smooth, wide sands, and resolved to proceed to a certain bold projection in the cliffs, and then return.

Presently, I heard a snuffling sound behind me, . . . . '

I will end the quote from the chapter here, as at this point something occurs which ultimately leads to the climax and conclusion of the novel - and you wouldn't want me to spoil the story for those who have not yet read it - would you?

On 30 July 1841, while at Scarborough with the Robinsons, Anne wrote in her 'four-yearly' diary paper: 'I am now engaged in writing the fourth volume of Solala Vernon's Life.' Some have suggested that this was a collection of auto-biographical material - and possibly the early spawnings of her later novel, Agnes Grey. I believe part of it may well have been the chapter presented above.36n


 Copyright © 1999 Michael Armitage
RETURN:
   Main Page    'The Sands'
26  -  June  -  99   
  Free counter and web stats   Mick Armitage (e-mail)