"Fancy it here - for a governess"

Public Domain"Employing a Governess" - Credit: Emily Shanks
Being a governess was often a painfully lonely position. Victorian society had developed a rigid hierarchy that differentiated not just between upper, middle and lower class but between the old and new rich, the skilled and unskilled worker, and the deserving and undeserving poor. Governesses did not really fit anywhere in this scheme. Writing in 1848, Lady Eastlake declared, “the real definition of a governess, in the English sense, is a being who is our equal in birth, manners and education, but our inferior in worldly wealth... There is no other class which so cruelly requires its members to be, in birth, mind, and manners, above their station, in order to fit them for their station”. Ranking above servants, who often saw them as little better than themselves and detested them accordingly, governesses were also obliged to maintain a respectful remove from the family. They were thus without peers, suspended in a social category of their own. For this reason, loneliness and isolation were the constant attendants of the profession.