The Governess: Qualified to Teach the Usual Branches of a Good English Education

Jane-Eyre-poster-007A governess’s job was to teach the children of middle and upper class households in 19th Century England. By 1850, there were 21,000 governesses registered in England. In Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, our heroine places the following advertisement, which eventually lands her the position at Thornhill Hall: A young lady accustomed to tuition is desirous of meeting with a situation in a private home where the children are under fourteen. She is qualified to teach the usual branches of a good English education, together with French, Drawing, and Music. The governess would remain in the household until the children departed for school or, in the case of young ladies, made her Come Out.

Being a governess was one of the few occupations considered suitable for middle-class girls to earn her a living. A governess was expected to have the education and manners of a genteel lady, but in the household, she held a tenuous situation. She was considered a servant by the master and mistress, but NOT one of their own to those below stairs. In Jane Austen’s Emma, Jane Fairfax bemoans her having to become a governess. She says, “…offices, where inquiry would soon procure something–offices for the sale not quite of human flesh, but of human intellect.”

jeBeing neither family nor servant, the governess spent a lonely lifestyle. Unfortunately, a large number of governesses had no family of their own to visit when given a rare holiday or from whom to receive a letter to ease the hours of isolation. Of course, in romance novels, the governess often attracts the attentions of the younger sons, or in Jane Eyre’s case, the master’s eye. For every “Jane Eyre,” there were likely many governesses who succumbed to the attentions of the households’ most seductive gentlemen. Affairs were more commonplace than we would like to think.

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About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and contemporary novels.
This entry was posted in British history, customs and tradiitons, Great Britain, Jane Austen, Living in the Regency, Living in the UK, Regency era, Victorian era and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Governess: Qualified to Teach the Usual Branches of a Good English Education

  1. Reblogged this on BOOKTALK WITH EILEEN and commented:
    Regina Jeffers shares her knowledge about positions of governess during the 1800’s. Have you ever considered being a governess or as we say these days, nanny?

  2. Most governesses were paid very poorly and they had little chance of escaping a lifelong drudgery – so lucky Jane!
    More seriously, the suicide rate among governesses was high which isn’t too surprising.

    • Yes, we sometimes forget how the governess was not looked upon as a servant by the household staff, nor was she considered part of the “family.” It must have been a very lonely existence. If attractive, she might become the target of the master or his sons.
      Thanks for joining me today, Maureen.

  3. Do you happen to have information on what sort of qualifications governesses during the Regency era were supposed to have, what they were expected to teach and the range of wages they could expect?

    • You might look at this essay. It describes the subjects in which a governess should be an expert, as well as the annual salary for the position.
      enotes.com/topics/governess-nineteenth-century-literature

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