Condition Of Governesses In Victorian England | Jane Eyre

Jun 28, 2019   •  78 views

Charlotte Bronte's timeless classic, Jane Eyre,first published in 1847 is also a perfect example of bildungsroman, the education novel. Jane Eyre is certainly a coming of age story as the main character Jane travels from the innocence of childhood through the maturity of adulthood.

A woman in the Victorian era was considered to be one who dedicated her life solely to the home, her family and most importantly her husband. She obeyed her earthly master as well as her heavenly husband and understood her place in the sexual hierarchy. Charlotte has challenged the society by creating Jane Eyre as an unorthodox character in her novel. Life in 19th century Britain was controlled by social class and hierarchy and people very rarely moved from the class in which they were born. In the critical essay "The Savage Tribes" in Jane Eyre by Rahul Sapra highlights that throughout the novel Jane is conscious of the class to which she belongs. In the beginning of the novel Jane is an outcaste belonging neither to the upper classes nor the lowest classes. As a child she suffers humiliation in the Reed's household due to her social status or rather the lack of it.

Governesses of this time were expected to uphold a high standard of aristocrat 'culture', however they were often poorly treated by their employers. They were also a threat to both their employers and the servants of the house. Because of their civilized upbringing, governesses lived a life of isolation. A governess was not exactly looked upon as a servant of the house neither was she regarded as a family member. They seldom, earned enough to save for their old age and their services were often exploited and undervalued. Women who served as governesses belonged to the middle-class strata of the society.

In the Introduction of Jane Eyre by Novy Kapadia, she mentions that the use of a first person narrator has ensured a certain kind of basic unity. Her character is consistent and varied and as a narrator she is present in the whole novel. The autobiographical form can also be seen through Bronte's bitter memories and feelings of neglect when she worked with the wealthy Sidgwick family as a governess. Bronte was also a teacher before becoming a governess and we can see the same thing in the character of Jane also, as she teaches at Lowood and then becomes governess in the Thornfield house, maybe through this Bronte appears to be sympathetic as she made a strong character like Jane Eyre who is wholly opposite from other women of the Victorian era.

In the entire novel, Jane has suffered which can also relate to the struggles of Charlotte Bronte's life. Her early childhood was unusual, hard and full of struggles. From childhood, the indomitable will, passion and strong sense of principle were the most well known characteristics of Charlotte's Bronte. At last her novels have a happy ending and critics like M.H. Scargill have even suggested that "it is the memory of real love which Charlotte Bronte herself had experienced that is that the novel is some kind of autobiography".