The Lives and Times of the Real Jane Eyres

Book - 2008 | 1st U.S. ed.
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The rise and fall of the English governess, the domestic heroine who inspired Victorian literature's greatest authors.

Between the 1780s and the end of the nineteenth century, an army of sad women took up residence in other people's homes, part and yet not part of the family, not servants, yet not equals. To become a governess, observed Jane Austen in Emma , was to "retire from all the pleasures of life, of rational intercourse, equal society, peace and hope, to penance and mortification for ever." However, in an ironic paradox, the governess, so marginal to her society, was central to its fiction--partly because governessing was the fate of some exceptionally talented women who later wrote novels based on their experiences. But personal experience was only one source, and writers like Wilkie Collins, William Makepeace Thackeray, Henry James, and Jane Austen all recognized that the governess's solitary figure, adrift in the world, offered more novelistic scope than did the constrained and respectable wife. Ruth Brandon weaves literary and social history with details from the lives of actual governesses, drawn from their letters and journals, to craft a rare portrait of real women whose lives were in stark contrast to the romantic tales of their fictional counterparts. Governess will resonate with the many fans of Jane Austen and the Bront#65533;s, whose novels continue to inspire films and books, as well as fans of The Nanny Diaries and other books that explore the longstanding tension between mothers and the women they hire to raise their children.

Publisher: New York : Walker & Co., 2008.
Edition: 1st U.S. ed.
ISBN: 9780802716309
Branch Call Number: 649.10942 B819
Characteristics: x, 303 p., [16] p. of plates : ill., ports.
Additional Contributors: Brandon, Ruth


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Jan 27, 2015

Really detailed, which means not so gripping a read, but if you're interested in what life was like for women in that era, then this book will answer most of your questions.

Mar 17, 2014

Factual account of the sometimes sad and dreary history of the governess. While most of the journals and letters that record the lives of these invisible women have been lost to history, the ones that remain are a fascinating reminder of what faced a young female with no prospects and looking to make what happened to be a poor living.

Jul 06, 2010

In the 18th and19th centuries, a woman was a spinster if she wasn?t married by her mid-twenties. If she lacked funds of her own as well as a husband, almost her only recourse to support herself?particularly if she was a gentlewoman of the upper classes?was to become a governess. As a governess, a woman lived in someone else?s home. She was responsible for the education of the family?s daughters and young sons. Neither family nor servant, she occupied an uneasy middle ground. In author Ruth Brandon?s study of the institution of the governess during the Victorian age, the lives of some of the more famous governesses are investigated. The Brontë sisters drew on their experiences for their vivid depictions of the profession in Jane Eyre and Agnes Grey. Anna Leonowens? memoirs were the inspiration for The King and I. Mary Wollstonecraft so despised her time as a governess (even though she had to quite good in comparison to many) that she later became a journalist and promoted the then-radical idea of education and equality for women. The lives that Brandon examines did not all face the neglect and mistreatment that many fictional governesses have to deal with, nor did most of them fall in love with their masters, run mad, or face compelling mysteries and secrets. But no one, it seems, ever loved being a governess. Readers will come away educated, entertained, and thanking their lucky stars that the profession is a thing of the past?but very grateful that fictional governesses abound to teach us all a thing or two.

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