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|Being a Governess
Written by BarbaraB
(5/23/2010 8:44 p.m.)
in consequence of the missive, I hate to seem like I'm nitpicking but..., penned by Elizabeth K
In regards to Jane Fairfax Jane Austen writes: with the fortitude of a devoted novitiate,, [Jane] had resolved at one-and-twenty to complete the sacrifice and retire from all pleasures of life, of rational intercourse, equal society, peace and hope, to penance and mortification forever. This sounds a bit of the extreme in the opposite direction but is probably closer to the truth. 'The Governess' by Richard Redgrave aptly illustrates this.
I was shocked to learn that governesses often had to deal with unruly, disrespectful and recalcitrant children. Then I thought of the children of Sir John in S&S, and I could see the possibilities. Those children will probably run a governess ragged, poor thing. Earlier in the GR I actually saw a picture of children being unruly. I can't find it for the life of me now. But I want to say they were actually throwing things at their teacher who was a man, no less.
A governess was susceptible to the spoiled sons and men who visited the home and thought the 'help' was fair game. She would be forced to ignore and fob off over zealous men in a way polite enough to keep her from losing her job. Job stability was not always good. She could be fired at the drop of a hat if the mother in particular didn't like her or the way she handled her children. Other reasons such as illness, or injury to herself, or hard times for the family could also end her position without notice. There was no unemployment or sick pay to fall back on.
It was a lonely job. Even though she might be on an equal footing in rank with the family she worked for, she was now the help and she could no longer dine with the gentry. She was above the household help and could not eat or socialize with them either. When she got too old for the job, there was no pension or social security. When Mr. Knightley says of the Miss Bates and her mother that they have sunk and will still sink further, becoming a governess was the first step toward such an end.
Here, again Mr. Bennet's failure to assure that his daughters received a good education will hinder them in finding employment especially with the best families when they are competing with young ladies who have better resumes so to speak.
Will a job as a governess be better than being on the street? Absolutely! But a father who is concerned for his daughters should be doing anything he can to prevent them from having to rely on this, not using it as a crutch so he can avoid doing anything for them himself.
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