During the Victorian Times, being a governess was a good occupation for middle- class women who wanted to keep their status. To work as a governess was not an easy job, but it was one of the few opportunities for women to get a job. In the novel Jane Eyre, the role of the governess is well represented as Jane is humble and submissive, she has to teach and take care of Adele and her social status is above servants but below her master.
To become a governess you had to be not only well educated, but also meek and obedient. These two characteristics were reflected in Jane Eyre as she never answered in a rude way to Lady Ingram after her insults. Clearly, a governess had to do that and do not answer when they were treated badly because they status did not permit such behavior. Even though Jane Eyre had a special personality, she received the insults in the way any governess would have received them. A governess was not a servant, nor a master. One of the problems that governesses had to face was their confusing social status because they were not considered servants but they were also below their masters. A governess had to share places with the servants but also they could attend some family parties in which the other servants could not. Simply put, the governess had a unique status inside the house as there was no other who shared the same category than her. The main role of the governess was to teach and being caretaker of the children. Many families during the Victorian times preferred to have a governess to take care of the children and to teach them as well. It is for this reason that to become a governess you had to be well educated and to manage not only academic areas, but also abilities such as playing the piano, painting and knitting. The governess had also to take care of the children and becoming a second mother, giving them love and teaching them values as well. The boundary of the labor of a governess was not clear and it was up to the families. Some governesses had to be a mother for the children and some others had just to teach them history or to paint. A governess used to teach languages, geography, music and drawing, but some of them had to teach morals and values as well. What a governess had to do depended basically on the families as they had to draw the line between what they wanted the governess to serve for. The salary of a governess was low and they did not have the chance to earn so much of it. A governess did not receive a lot of money but they did not have to spend any of it in food or to stay in the house, that is why the job was worthy anyway. In Jane Eyre this situation is appreciated as she did not received a high salary for her job which meant she did not have money to buy expensive clothing or jewelry, that is why she looked as a humble woman. The low salary of the governess showed how undervalued was her role in the society. Clearly, education was a big concern in the Victorian times. However, they did not value the role of the educators as they did with the education itself. It is for this reason that the governess received a low salary and was not so different from the salary received by the servants. Governesses were always blamed to be ambitious and become a lady through their master’s seduction. This was an issue that some women considered detestable, because they believed that the governesses were always trying to get a better status by winning their master’s heart. This problem was presented in Bronte’s novel as well, through Lady Ingram’s dislike with governesses because of this issue. Jane Eyre showed also that the love story between a governess and her master was possible. However, was not as easy as it was showed in the novel. Even though Jane Eyre reflected the personality of a governess, she got some characteristics that made her a special one. Clearly, Jane Eyre always was a person with an interesting personality and that fact was reflected in her job as well. Miss Eyre was not just a simple governess; she became her master’s friend and eventually, his wife. To have a close relationship with the master was not as easy as it seems in the novel because normally the masters used to consider the governesses inferior and they barely got interested in them.
Jane was a strong woman, with clear convictions and independent. These characteristics made Jane a peculiar governess who could touch her master’s heart. This young governess was submissive when she felt it was not necessary to start a discussion. However, when she felt she had to be direct and say what she thought she did it without problems. For example, when Mr. Rochester asked her if he was handsome and she answered with an empathic “no”. The life of a governess was solitary and she did not have much contact with her family. This issue was one of the worst reasons to become a governess because she had to leave everything behind and to start a new life in her new house. This situation was very sad because most of the governesses lost all the contact they had with their families as they did not have vacations or time to visit them. Jane is an example of the solitary life of a governess as she did not have friends and she could not make them because she spent all the time in Thornfield Hall. Bronte’s novel permits to have an idea of how the life during the Victorian era was, especially with the role of the governesses. I did not know much about what a governess had to do and how undervalued her job was. I could realize that this situation with the educators is not something new and that the governesses had to tolerate the underestimation of their labor as the same as teachers nowadays. Thanks to the novel I also could noticed that the life of a governess was not easy at all and some of them were treated in a very bad way and receiving a low salary for a huge labor and effort.
“The Governess in Nineteenth-Century Literature”. Enotes.
Well, Erin. “The governess and class prejudice” Victorian web. 1993. < http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/gaskell/61n_s7.html>
Stone, Alan A. “Governing Passion”. Boston Review.