Monday, May 18, 2009

The Governess

Jane Austen's World describes the most tenuous of professions.
Working as a governess meant a life of limbo for the poor gentlewoman who was forced to support herself due to reduced financial cirdumstances. Jane Fairfax had every reason to fear her future employment. Governesses were a threat to both their employers and the servants of the house, reminding their female employers of how close they were to finding themselves in a similar predicament. Because of their genteel upbringing governesses lived a life of isolation, not fitting in with the servants belowstairs, not even the housekeeper, butler, or nanny, who, while they belonged to the upper ranks of servants, came from humble origins. Governesses seldom earned enough to save for their old age, and their services were often exploited and undervalued.


Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Mary Poppins!!!!!One musical/film I thoroughly like, along with Sound of Music and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

I've also had a hit at the books.

May said...

Very sad.

Enbrethiliel said...


I wonder how many modern readers of Emma understand just how big a statement Jane Fairfax makes when she concludes being a governess might be preferable preferable to marrying Frank Churchill. (For her fictional sake, I'm glad it knocked Frank to his senses.)

May said...

What do you think of Jane Fairfax, by the way? Of course, I have alot of sympathy for her predicament, but she does seem rather underhand, in becoming involved in the secret engagement (which is understandable, given the circumstances, but still seems problematic).

I do think, however, that she is a better person than Frank Churchill, who seems to take outright delight in deceiving the world as to his true feelings by ostensibly courting Emma and mistreating Jane. At least, Jane's actions are driven by desperation, whereas Frank seems to enjoy mischief.

Enbrethiliel said...


I've always liked Jane Fairfax! The secret engagement seems like something a poor young woman in love with someone like Frank would agree to--and I confess I find it very romantic. Jane certainly wouldn't want to cause trouble for her fiance.

If I remember correctly, one of Jane Austen's sisters wrote her to say that she wished Austen had written a book about Jane Fairfax instead of Emma Woodhouse. When I first read Emma, I had the same opinion! =P

(It has been a while since I last read the novel, however, so if I got any of the details wrong here, may I stand corrected!)

elena maria vidal said...

I never liked Frank Churchill but Mr. Knightley always upstaged him as far as I was concerned. Yes, I agree, it would have been delightful to have a novel about Jane.

May said...

I enjoyed hearing Enbrethiliel's perspective.

I also think a novel about Jane would have been very interesting. She is certainly a fascinating character, especially due to the contrast between her outward reserve and (as gradually appears) the passionate nature of her feelings. Not to mention her beauty, talents, and strength of mind.