Friday, August 21, 2009

Regency Education Part 1 - The Governess

"There is nobody in the house with whom I can be on equal terms"

So spoke Ellen Weeton in her 'Journal of a Governess' and more than anything else, her statement delineates the chief difficulty of the governess' position.

The education of young girls, while sometimes involving young ladies' academies and the like (which I will discuss in future posts), was in the main left in the hands of 'the governess'. The governess was always a woman of gentle birth, with an acceptable level of education, good manners and a knowledge of society and its workings. She was also generally in reduced circumstances, in need of earning her own living.

The working day, which the governess laid out, often followed a pattern such as was illustrated in the 1809 publication "Ellinor: or The Young Governess" by Mrs. C. Mathews. "The morning after Ellinor's arrival at Selby-Grove, she commenced her task as governess. From seven to eight, the hour when the children were accustomed to take their breakfast, she appropriated to reading; the intervening time between that and dinner, was to be given to the study of French, the needle, etc.; the afternoon was dedicated to music; and the evening to rational amusement, instructive conversation, and healthful exercise."

The work day was long but not invariably unpleasant. Governesses were not always treated with the scorn and derision that literature leads us to believe. Some were treated as members of their employers' families, some were loved by their pupils, some lived with the same family their entire working life and were provided with a pension of some sort for their retirement.

"After questionings, and doubts, and anxieties, you come to the determination to teach, and you inquire after a situation; and here, again, you must be patient….It is very trying for some ladies to receive into their hourses those whom they feel to be in a reduced position; and they naturally prefer ladies who have been educated for the work of teaching, and who have all along kept this in view….On your first situation, and what it is to you, and you to it, depend mainly the comfort and success of your future career." These wise words were written by Emily Peart in "A Book for Governesses" one of the many guides to the profession available in the 1800s.

The education governesses provided their students was variable. Some were born teachers, some were only competent, others were poor educators and worse disciplinarians. The education of most Regency girls depended on the wisdom and perspicacity of their parents in choosing their governess. The governess' career depended--as the above quote indicates--on her own acuity.

The greatest challenge of the governess' life was apparently loneliness. However well-treated by their employers, they were not family. Neither were they considered servants for they were better born and bred than the servant class. Neither fish nor fowl they languished in a social vacuum, filling their off duty hours as best they could.

There was another class of governess--the daily governess--which may be a slightly later-than-Regency development. I am still researching the governess who called in each day at her employers' residence to provide education and guidance and returned to her own home in the evening. You might want to read my short story "Arithmetic and the Daily Governess" for a romantic view of the profession. If anyone has information on the daily governess, I would be interested in resources.

There are two general books on which I rely for information about governesses though they discuss the Victorian period more than the Regency or Georgian:

"The Governess: An Anthology" ed by Trev Boughton and Ruth Symes, 1997 Sutton Publishing Limited 0-7509-1503-X

"Governess: The Lives and Times of the Real Jane Eyres" by Ruth Brandon, 2008 Walker Publishing Company 0-8027-1630-X

For Regency information, the following book has come to my attention. I'm looking forward to reading it.

"A governess in the age of Jane Austen: the Journals and letters of Agnes Porter" ed. by Joanna Martin, 2003, Hambledon & London 1-8528-5164-3

Next time we discuss Regency Education, we'll look at young ladies' academies,

Till then,

No comments: