Governess by Ruth Brandon
The Lives and Times of the Real Jane Eyres

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Synopsis

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 Brontës, 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.
 

About Ruth Brandon

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Ruth Brandon is the author of ten nonfiction books, including Singer and the Sewing Machine and The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini. She lives in London.
 
Published February 1, 2011 by Walker Books. 320 pages
Genres: History, Travel. Non-fiction

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Most governesses had little time to keep reflective journals or write letters, the author notes, but among the handful of women whose lives she considers are some with high name recognition, including Mary Wollstonecraft, Claire Clairmont and Anna Leonowens (whose story eventually became The King...

May 01 2008 | Read Full Review of Governess: The Lives and Time...

The New York Times

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Early in Queen Victoria’s reign, 30 percent of adult Englishwomen were single — and considered, as one social commentator put it, “redundant.” If of gentle birth and no means, without a family to care for, an extra woman naturally sought work as a governess.

May 25 2008 | Read Full Review of Governess: The Lives and Time...

The Guardian

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Other People's Daughters: The Life and Times of the Governess by Ruth Brandon 320pp, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £20 I must declare an interest: 15 years ago I wrote the first scholarly book on the Victorian governess designed for a general readership.

Mar 22 2008 | Read Full Review of Governess: The Lives and Time...

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