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Review: Governess: The Lives and Times of the Real Jane Eyres, by Ruth Brandon

The modern-day reader is most familiar with the 19th century profession of governess through the novels of the Bronte sisters. Governess: The Lives and Times of the Real Jane Eyres is a chronicle of governessing in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Ruth Brandon follows the lives of seven highly unusual women who were either forced by circumstance or chose the solitary life of being a governess.

Brandon’s subjects include Agnes Porter, a governess who held an unusual rapport with her employers; Mary Wollstonecraft, who tried her hand at governessing before finally finding her calling in writing; Anna Leonowens, whose life inspired The King And I; and the women who made strides towards making governessing a liveable job. Eventually, their efforts would lead to the founding of Girton College at Cambridge, which had a profound effect on the profession as a whole.

The governess was an unusual figure in the Victorian period. She belonged neither “upstairs” nor “downstairs,” leading those that she lived with to treat her as an outcast. Governesses were underpaid and overworked, and those that were forced into the profession usually came from poor but genteel backgrounds (usually they were the daughters of clergymen). Brandon’s source material is mostly not new, and her tone is a little pedantic, but her subject matter is extraordinarily fascinating.

Comments

Ted said…
Katherine - Thank you for your visit and your many comments. I'm glad to discover a fellow book enthusiast and your blog as well.
Arleigh said…
What an interesting book. I'm adding it to my wishlist. Thanks!
Dorothy W. said…
That book sounds quite interesting -- it's something I'd love to know more about! Thanks for the review.

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2015 Reading

January
1. The Vanishing Witch, by Karen Maitland
2. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
3. Texts From Jane Eyre, by Mallory Ortberg
4. Brighton Rock, by Graham Green
5. Brat Farrar, by Josephine Tey
6. Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert
7. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
8. A Movable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway
9. A Room of One's Own, by Virginia Woolf
10. Other Voices, Other Rooms, by Truman Capote
11. Maggie-Now, by Betty Smith

February
1. Middlemarch, by George Eliot
2. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
3. Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate, by Cynthia Lee
4. Music For Chameleons, by Truman Capote
5. Peyton Place, by Grace Metalious
6. Unrequited, by Lisa Phillips
7. Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
8. A Lost Lady, by Willa Cather

March
1. Persuasion, by Jane Austen
2. Love With a Chance of Drowning, by Torre DeRoche
3. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
4. Miss Buncle's Book, by DE Stevenson
5. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garc…