Poor working conditions were typical of many governess posts, as this 1842 newspaper advert from John Bull draws our attention to: the governess requests no wage for her full-time labour.
How does Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre discuss salary and working conditions?
Aided by the reflective narrative form and sequence of time, Charlotte Brontë subtly engages with the issue of salary. Writing as her adult self on the cusp of the 1820s, reflecting on the early 1800s, Jane remarks on the relative generosity of her governess salary:
Having sought and obtained an audience of the superintendent during the noontide recreation, I told her I had a prospect of getting a new situation where the salary would be double what I now received (for at Lowood I only got £15 per annum).
In today’s money, £30 is approximately £1000. Later, Rochester discusses raising the salary even further to £50. Despite the comfort such a wage would bring, this same scene is undercut by the revelation that despite having worked for several months, Jane has not yet been paid.
- Article by:
- Kathryn Hughes
- Poverty and the working classes, Gender and sexuality
From Jane Eyre to Vanity Fair, the governess is a familiar figure in Victorian literature. She is also a strange one: not part of the family, yet not quite an ordinary servant. Kathryn Hughes focuses on the role and status of the governess in 19th century society.