Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Presently I'm reading a book I picked up at the Portland Public Library's book sale. It's called Governess: The Life and Times of the Real Jane Eyres, and it reads like the diet version of an actual history book. Nonetheless, it has its moments. The author, Ruth Brandon, makes some cogent points about the way in which the governess's household predicament was a middle-class mashup of gentility, poverty, lack of education, and feminine dependence, with employers' nouveau-riche aspirations tossed into the mix. It's no wonder, as Brandon points out, that governesses made such excellent novel-fodder, even though there are relatively few extant primary sources. (Apparently nobody had much interest in preserving the journals and letters of a spinster governess.) The author also remarks that "it is unsurprising that by the mid-nineteenth century, governesses, along with maids-of-all-work, constituted 'by far the largest classes of insane women in asylums.'" As we have always suspected, the first and second Mrs. Rochesters were not so far apart.