The Governess in Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism: Social Roles And Economic Conditions - Essay

Patricia Clarke (essay date 1985)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Genteel Emigrants,” in The Governesses: Letters from the Colonies, 1862-1882, Hutchinson, 1985, pp. 1-23.

[In the following essay, Clarke offers a history of the Female Middle Class Emigration Society and an overview of the more than three hundred female emigrants who were sponsored by the Society and sent overseas to seek employment as governesses.]

‘Amongst no class does greater distress exist than amongst the class of poor governesses …’

Jane Lewin, London, 1863

When Emily Streeter, a young, vulnerable but spirited girl, landed in Sydney from London on the Rachel in...

(The entire section is 9583 words.)

Mary Poovey (essay date 1988)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Anathematized Race: The Governess and Jane Eyre,” in Uneven Developments: The Ideological Work of Gender in Mid-Victorian England, University of Chicago Press, 1988, pp. 126-63.

[In the following essay, Poovey focuses on the vast amount of attention given to the “plight” of the governess during the 1840s and 1850s, examining such factors as social stability, the Victorian notion of the domestic ideal, and the increasing economic independence of women.]

The governess was a familiar figure to midcentury middle-class Victorians, just as she is now to readers of Victorian novels.1 Even before Becky Sharp and Jane Eyre gave names to...

(The entire section is 18272 words.)

Alice Renton (essay date 1991)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “‘The Dullest Life Ever Dragged on by Mortal …’,” in Tyrant or Victim? A History of the British Governess, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1991, pp. 66-75.

[In the following excerpt, Renton contends that regardless of the qualifications of the governess, most employers treated her with disrespect and considered her simply a “superior servant.”]

All things considered, in the nineteenth century an expensive education for a daughter was not a sound investment for a middle-class father. Even in statistical terms it was a risky one. Supposing he had five girls out of, say ten children: it was quite possible that during their childhood or adolescence he would...

(The entire section is 4679 words.)

Alice Renton (essay date 1991)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Fighting for Respect,” in Tyrant or Victim? A History of the British Governess, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1991, pp. 96-105.

[In the following excerpt, Renton discusses the difficulties governesses faced with their social standing within the family as well as frequently unfavorable working conditions and inadequate pay.]

Whatever the circumstances, a governess had to maintain her appearance of gentility; one of her best selling points was the fact that she was, or appeared to be, a gentlewoman. She was described in one issue of the Quarterly Review as ‘a being who is our equal in birth, manners, and education, but our inferior in worldly wealth’....

(The entire section is 4309 words.)

Joanna Martin (essay date 1998)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: An introduction to A Governess in the Age of Jane Austen: The Journals and Letters of Agnes Porter, The Hambledon Press, 1998, pp. 1-74.

[In the following excerpt, the journals and letters of late eighteenth-century governess Agnes Porter are discussed. Comparisons are made between Porter's experiences and those portrayed in Jane Austen's fiction.]

Ann Agnes Porter was born in Edinburgh, a few years after the Jacobite rising of 1745.1 For twenty years between 1784 and 1806, living in Somerset, Dorset and then South Wales, she was governess to the children and grandchildren of the second Earl of Ilchester. Agnes's first surviving journal was written...

(The entire section is 18368 words.)