This post originally appeared on From Pemberley to Milton in early December 2021. Enjoy!
A governess during the Regency and Victorian eras possessed no expectation ever to marry, which means Elizabeth Bennet, in my tale, cannot hope to win Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy’s heart. Her reduced circumstances stand in the way of their happiness. These women had no pensions, no hope for long-term employment, and no allegiance past their ability to work. Things were so bad The Governesses Mutual Assurance Society was formed in 1829.
The way people of the Regency thought of an “education” for a girl was not something particularly new. In the 17th Century, females learned to sing, play instruments, speak foreign language, and dance. Such were thought necessary to attract a husband and to be accepted socially.
Families required governesses to teach a variety of subjects to both their male and female children. In addition to the general knowledge required to be successful in their occupation, a governess must practice proper deportment, punctuality, well-grounded principles of right and wrong, sound religious principles, some knowledge of how children learn, integrity, kindness, and several established accomplishments. Moreover, she had to be a “lady,” meaning she was part of the gentry class.
We must remember, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, there was a prevailing attitude of not educating females beyond a certain point. “There is no question that affection and the moral qualities generally, form the best part of a woman’s character. To stint these for the sake of her intellectual development, which will never be worth the sacrifice, is to create a monster, and a foolish one.” [“The British Mother Taking Alarm,” Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art 32 (1871):335.]
The most important quality for becoming a governess was to be a “lady.” Beyond what subjects the potential governess thought she could teach, employers wished to know who the woman’s father might be, where he lived, how she was raised, who was her maternal grandmother, the type of education she had, etc., to make certain the candidate was from the correct social class.
An advertisement in The Times, dated 17 June 1845, states, “Wanted, a Governess, on Handsome Terms. Governess – a comfortable home, but without salary, is offered to any lady wishing for a situation as governess in a gentleman’s family, residing in the country, to instruct two little girls in music, drawing, and English; a thorough knowledge of the French language is required.”
Enjoy the excerpt below from the second half of Chapter One of Pemberley’s Christmas Governess.
Pemberley’s Christmas Governess: A Holiday Pride and Prejudice Vagary
Two hearts. One kiss.
Following his wife’s death in childbirth. Fitzwilliam Darcy hopes to ease his way back into society by hosting a house party during Christmastide. He is thrilled when his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam sends a message saying not only will he attend, but the colonel is bringing a young woman with him of whom he hopes both Darcy and his mother, Lady Matlock, will approve. Unfortunately, upon first sight, Darcy falls for the woman: He suspects beneath Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s conservative veneer lies a soul which will match his in every way; yet, she is soon to be the colonel’s wife.
Elizabeth Bennet lost her position as a governess when Lady Newland accuses Elizabeth of leading her son on. It is Christmastide, and she has no place to go and little money to hold her over until after Twelfth Night; therefore, when Lieutenant Newland’s commanding officer offers her a place at his cousin’s household for the holy days, she accepts in hopes someone at the house party can provide her a lead on a new position. Having endured personal challenges which could easily have embittered a lesser woman, to all, Elizabeth proves herself brave, intelligent, educated in the fine arts of society, and deeply honorable. Unfortunately, she is also vulnerable to the Master of Pemberley, who kindness renews her spirits and whose young daughter steals her heart. The problem is she must leave Pemberley after the holidays, and she does not know if a “memory” of Fitzwilliam Darcy will be enough to sustain her.
Elizabeth had managed to hold back her tears until she closed the door behind her. “What am I to do now?” she whispered to the sparsely decorated room. “My denial of Mr. Collins’s proposal proved my mother’s worst fears true.” Charlotte Lucas’s acceptance of Mr. Collins’s hand within hours of Elizabeth’s refusal had prevented Elizabeth from changing her mind. “Not that I would have done so,” she sighed as the tears flowed freely. “At the time, I foolishly believed my opinions to be absolutes. Yet—”
Even after all the years which had passed, the idea of Mr. Collins touching her intimately brought a shudder of revulsion to her person. “Yet,” she whispered once more. “Yet, if I knew then what I know now—if I could have saved my family from living as poor relations of my mother’s siblings, I would have found a means to tolerate the man, just as has Charlotte.” She smiled weakly. “I could have developed a taste for brandy or laudanum, something to dull the possibility of being Mr. Collins’s wife.”
Elizabeth pushed off from the door to have a look at her appearance in the small mirror on the wall. The sight of how her dress had been ruined brought on more tears. She possessed only a half-dozen gowns, all of which had been repaired numerous times. The thought of Lieutenant Newland’s hands upon her had her wishing to rip the gown from her shoulders, sending the row of buttons flying across the floor. Allowing her to rid herself of the degradation she had endured. Instead, she wiped away her tears with the heels of her hands. It would be necessary for her to make do with what she had available. “Mama would be surprised to learn how much my needlework has improved,” she told her weariness.
Not one to turn from the storm, Elizabeth swallowed the sadness rushing forward in an effort to calm herself. “No time to wallow in self-pity, my girl,” she warned her wavering resourcefulness. “You have decisions to make and little time in which to make them. As I have been relieved of my duties, her ladyship’s maid may tend the children this evening. I owe Lady Newland no allegiance in this matter. Instead, I shall use the hours ahead to repair this gown, to pack my portmanteau, and to weigh my options for the future. I have a bit of savings which can see me through as long as I can find another position within a few weeks. Likely, it is best if I return to London for the immediate future. I have missed my sisters terribly. A few days with family, yet, I shan’t tell Uncle Gardiner of my situation. I shall just say I was presented an unexpected holiday. A few days with Jane and Mary and then I will find a cheap place to stay while I wait for news of my next post.”
* * *
She had had a simple meal in the kitchen while she waited for the colonel and Captain Stewart to finish their breakfast in the morning room. Colonel Fitzwilliam had slipped a note under her door explaining how the surgeon had declared Lieutenant Newland’s leg broken in two places, but such would not likely cause the man any permanent damage. The breaks would heal properly if the lieutenant permitted them enough time. The colonel delivered the lieutenant’s apologies and Lord Newland’s promise of a full quarter’s wages.
Elizabeth had no doubt Lady Newland would have turned her out last evening if not for the colonel’s interference. The gentleman apologized twice for not being able to secure a letter of character for her. Evidently, Lord Newland would not go against his wife in that manner.
Although no one in the kitchen had looked at her or acknowledged her in any way, when she stood to leave, Elizabeth defiantly said, “I enjoyed my time at Newland Hall. I pray you are equally satisfied with your time in service under the family.” Her words could be construed as sadness or boldness: She would leave the interpretation to the hearer. Bending to reclaim her travel bag and portmanteau, she exited the house through the kitchen door—head held high. “Unbeatable,” she said to fortify her spirits. “You are unbeatable.”