Date of Award

Spring 5-2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Lynda Hall

Second Advisor

Joanna Levin

Third Advisor

Samantha Dressel


This essay focuses on the prevalent fears of governesses in nineteenth-century Britain: poverty and social isolation, uselessness/redundancy, and a life of loneliness. Through looking at Emma, Jane Eyre, and The Turn of the Screw, novels which span the century (their publication dates ranging from 1814-1898), and comparing them to the historical reality of many middle class women at the time, these fears are revealed to be quite valid. The fears and anxieties displayed by the characters in the three novels are reflected in statements made by former governesses (including Mary Wollstonecraft), and are likewise reinforced through census reports and common thought of the period. The rigid structure of British society during the period forced many middle class women without male support into employment as governesses, offering little escape from their roles and rare opportunities at upward social mobility. Jane Fairfax, Jane Eyre, and the unnamed governess in The Turn of the Screw serve as significant representations of the experiences of real women in their situations, and likewise reveal the precarious social status of governesses, who had to navigate being both gentlewomen and paid employees. These three novels illuminate the constancy and repetition of the fears and anxieties of single, employed, middle class women in nineteenth-century England.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.



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