I’ve tracked down some interesting blog posts and articles about subjects mentioned in recent-ish chapters of Jane Eyre. I won’t be discussing chapters 17-19 until this weekend, but WOW do I love all of the drama going on, especially with the influx of new characters.
Through Jane’s situation at Thornfield Hall, and especially via her interactions (or lack of) Rochester’s visiting friends, we get a good idea of what life was like for a Victorian governess. If you’d like a nice overview of the kind of job women like Jane had, read The Figure of the Governess by Kathryn Hughes:
Life was full of social and emotional tensions for the governess since she didn’t quite fit anywhere. She was a surrogate mother who had no children of her own, a family member who was sometimes mistaken for a servant. Was she socially equal or inferior to her employers? If the family had only recently stepped up the social scale, perhaps she’d consider herself superior. She was rarely invited to sit down to dinner with her employers, even if they were kind. The servants disliked the governess because they were expected to be deferential towards her, despite the fact that she had to go out to work, just like them.
Kathryn Hughes apparently has written a whole book on the subject of governesses.
Here’s a letter from Charlotte Bronte in which she talks about governesses and how important it is for women to be financially independent. I couldn’t find the full text online aside from the scans of the original letter.
Meanwhile, Jane and Rochester still haven’t shut up about Physiognomy, so I found another article about it, including some interesting visuals from Victorian phrenologists/physiologists, showing how they analyzed faces to learn about the person’s personality.
Together these pseudosciences should not be viewed as fanciful, benign, or just misguided scientific endeavors of the 18th and 19th century, but rather portentous and troublesome practices, leading to or even perpetuating prejudices and long-standing biases. People could be easily categorized, labeled, and judged, not on merit or deed, but by their mere physical appearance. As a result, phrenology and physiognomy caught the interest of certain individuals with strong ideological convictions who wish to use these pseudosciences as justification for social, racial, religious, or political change.
Last but not least, the mysterious Mr. Mason (who shows up in this week’s reading), is from Spanish Town, Jamaica. I found you some awesome old maps of that area, for no good reason at all except OLD MAPS, Y’ALL.