The Victorian governess suffered socially because of her position. The relationship between her and others that were in her class was strained because of her financial situation. She often suffered from "status incongruity." The relationship between a governess and a gentleman was difficult because she was not his financial equal (Peterson 13). While the relationship was strained in her novel Jane Eyre, Bronte leads us to believe that it is not altogether impossible.
When speaking of the governess and relationships we must first deal with "status incongruity" in the novel. There are several instances in Jane Eyre where the social strain is clearly displayed. The scene that takes place just before the charades give us a clear depiction of "status incongruity":
Will you play? he [Rochester] asked. I shook my head. He did not insist, which I rather feared he would have done: he allowed me to return quietly to my usual seat. He and his aids now withdrew behind the curtain: the other party which was headed by Colonel Dent, sat down on the crescent of chairs. One of the gentlemen, Mr. Eshton, observing me, seemed to propose that I should be asked to join them; but Lady Ingram instantly negatived the notion. "NO" I heard her say: "she looks too stupid for any game of the sort." (185; ch. 18)
"Status incongruity" is well displayed here. Rochester (not willing to exclude her) invites Jane to play charades, but offers no protests when she rejects his offer. Jane does not want to participate because she feels uncomfortable. Avoiding the game of charades was Jane’s way of escaping a situation which might have made both parties uncomfortable. She does not want to be placed in a si...
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...ndependency (437; ch. 38). It is only when Jane has money of her own and is re-established in the social class to which she belonged that her marriage is able to take place without objections, or further complications.
Bronte takes the impossible relationship, and makes it a reality. She does this, however, without losing the realism of the relationship. Jane Eyre is not a story of Cinderella and Prince Charming, Jane does not get rescued. In fact Jane works her way up the social ladder, accomplishing marriage without the social strain it would have had if she were still a governess.
Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Ed. Beth Newman. Boston: Bedford, 1996.
Hughes, Kathryn. The Victorian Governess. London: Hambledon, 1993.
Peterson, Jeanne. "The Victorian Governess." Suffer and Be Still. Ed. Martha Vicinus. London: Indiana UP, 1972.
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