help! I need to know does Bronte support or undermine the realities of domestic service in the 19th century.How accurate is her portrayal of Jane as a governess? What is the truth about the...


I need to know does Bronte support or undermine the realities of domestic service in the 19th century.How accurate is her portrayal of Jane as a governess? What is the truth about the relationshipbetween a governess and the other servants or the master/mistress of the estate?

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scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mainly, I would say that Bronte offers a balance of realistic and fictional portrayal of domestic service during the 1800s.  As a governess, Jane would have had more privileges than other members of the household staff for several reasons. First, she and other governesses had an education when it would have been highly unlikely for other domestic servants to be literate. Secondly, some governesses actually came from families that would be considered upper middle class in our society today, meaning that they could be from trade families or perhaps be young ladies who had not made a desirable "match" yet. The governess's duties also forced her into social situations that other members of the staff would not be able to enjoy; this could include sightseeing with their wards, attending some social functions, or participating in conversations with aristocrats.

While Bronte does seek to portray realistically the life of a 19th century governess, she includes that portrayal in a Gothic novel; so it is not unusual that some of her writing is more idealistic than accurate. Jane's relationship with Rochester, while frowned upon by Rochester's friends and society as a whole, would have been so taboo in real life that it is doubtful that she or he would have forced the issue. So, while Bronte tries to depict realistically society's reaction to such a match, the idea of the relationship occurring in the first place is unrealistic.

In reality, the governess's relationship with her master/mistress was usually one of respect.  However, they could be treated the same as the rest of the staff depending on the attitude of the children's parents.  The link below should also help you.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with scarletpimpernel: Bronte writes out of personal experience, having been a governess herself and thus her account of Jane's life and work at Thornfield Hall is tinged with, above all, realism. What it is important to remember is that governesses occupied a very difficult position in Victorian society. They possessed all the skills and qualities necessary to become "ladies" in this time, but because of their financial situation, had to teach those skills to gain a salary. Thus, whilst they had all the knowledge and the education on the one hand to be part of upper-class society, on the other hand they were not allowed to be part of that society because of their position as dependents. This made them something of a social outcasts. Re-read the Chapters in the drawing room where Blanche Inghram and her mother talk about governesses - they were looked down upon and often (wrongly) linked with tempting the master of the house into affairs. This, to me, makes the relationship between Rochester and Jane when she is a governess slightly unlikely - he would have just had her if he had really wanted her, rather than courting her. Another way in which this novel is highly Romantic.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Even without knowing much (outside of books) about the historical position of governesses in society, I know it was an awkward position, at best.  People who gave their children almost exclusively to a governess should have been in no position to make judgments about anyone.  Abdication of parental responsibility is not a moral high ground from which to preach "suitability" and "propriety" to others of any station or position.  That being said, Bronte does seem to have struck a balance between demonstrating the lesser nature and status of the governess as seen by those who hired them.  The irony, of course, is that Jane turned out to be the faithful, reliable, and constant presence, while all of Rochester's peers apparently deserted him when his circumstances changed.  So, while she clearly and (historically) accurately positions the serving class below the more aristocratic, she creates a woman of moral strength and character in Jane, the governess. 

archteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There's a great site you can go to:

This is the PBS masterpiece theater page.  Click on "The Victorian Governess" (up at the top or to the left under "features") to find information about a Governess' education, role in her employer's household, salary, and job description.  Then decide for yourself!

Read the study guide:
Jane Eyre

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