Reading List: The Governess

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Jane Eyre (2011).

If you were an unmarried young woman in the Victorian age and you didn’t have a fortune of your own, working as a governess would be one of the few ways you could earn your living.  They would be hired by a wealthy family to live in a house that wasn’t theirs and look after other people’s children, with no leisure time and few possessions to call their own. It was hard and often thankless work – and many of these women found themselves wishing for a way out, for something more.

[Cue Belle singing about the "great wide somewhere."]

Jane Eyre (1847), Charlotte Brontë

Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! – I have as much soul as you, – and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you!

Agnes Grey (1847), Anne Brontë

How delightful it would be to be a governess! To go out into the world; to enter upon a new life; to act for myself; to exercise my unused faculties; to try my unknown powers; to earn my own maintenance [...]; to show papa what his little Agnes could do; to convince mamma and Mary that I was not quite the helpless, thoughtless being they supposed.

Vanity Fair (1847), William Makepeace Thackeray

A woman may possess the wisdom and chastity of Minerva, and we give no heed to her, if she has a plain face. What folly will not a pair of bright eyes make pardonable? What dullness may not red lips are sweet accents render pleasant?

Lady Audley’s Secret (1862), Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Surely a pretty woman never looks prettier than when making tea.

Uncle Silas (1864), Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

You will do well to take advantage of Madame’s short residence to get up your French a little… You will be glad of this, my dear, when you have reached France, where you will find they speak nothing else.

The Turn of the Screw (1898), Henry James

I take up my own pen again – the pen of all my old unforgettable efforts and sacred struggles. To myself – today – I need say no more. Large and full and high the future still opens. It is now indeed that I may do the work of my life. And I will.

The Crimson Petal and the White (2002), Michel Faber

Why are there such long words in the world, Miss?’ enquires Sophie, when the mineralogy lesson is over.
‘One long difficult word is the same as a whole sentence full of short easy ones, Sophie,’ says Sugar. ‘It saves time and paper.’


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