The Victorian Governess Novel
Lund Studies in English 100
Keywords: guvernanter i litteraturen
The governess held a peculiar position in Victorian England: she was a wage-earning, middle-class woman in a society in which middle-class femininity was defined by domesticity and non-participation in the public labour market. This made her a suitable heroine for writers focusing on domestic, educational and social issues.
This study investigates the Victorian governess novel as a specific genre. Based on a comprehensive set of nineteenth-century novels, governess manuals, articles and biographical material, it shows how the Victorian governess novel made up a vital part of the governess debate, as well as of the more general debate on female education.
A large majority of the novels included in this study have not received any critical attention in our time. A probable reason for the fact that most governess novels have fallen into obscurity, although they were widely read in their own day, is their highly specialized topic. Nevertheless, they deserve to be acknowledged as a part of the nineteenth-century debate concerning female employment. They also make important observations on other aspects of Victorian middle-class ideology, such as motherhood and education.