n Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, Jane obtains a position as a governess with very little trouble. Placing an adverstisement in a local paper, she receives an acceptable and respectable offer based in part on her training and teaching experience at Lowood. Punch, the famous magazine of satire and humor, mockingly proposed formal training for governesses, that describes Lowood almost perfectly: "There ought to be the establishment of a school to prepare young ladies to be governesses. . . but as the social position of a governess is a peculiar one, being, as a novelty, rather uncomfortable, though, like a certain process to which eels are subjected, nothing when anyone is used to it " (Punch 10 (1846): 216). The article describes the details of the institution's curriculum, and although satirical and exaggerated, they fit Jane's school — a fact that suggests Bronte made the same criticism that Punch had done the previous year.
The "Governesses' Benevolent Institution," as it is called in Punch, would involve the following lesson: "The novices, during leisure hours, are to sit in separate apartments accessible to all of the servants, who, however, will not be allowed to wait upon them, or bring them any refreshment, if hungry from the insufficiency of their meals" (216). This lesson reminds us of Jane's first experience at Lowood when she discovers the food was not likely to be either good or bountiful: "Ravenous, and now very faint, I devoured a spoonful or two of my portion without thinking of its taste; but the first edge of hunger blunted, I perceived I had got in hand a nauseous mess: burnt porridge is almost as bad as rotten potatoes; famine itself soon sickens over it" (39).
Elsewhere, Punch's Governesses' Benevolent Institution emphasizes thriftiness in clothing (and mocks the yearly wage of a governess) whose "dresses are to be such as a lady can afford upon twenty pounds a year" (216). Although Jane receives thirty pounds a year from Mr. Rochester, at Lowood, her dress was so poor as to only allow one pair of undergarments per week.
Another lesson at the Benevolent Institution involved learning how to behave at social functions, a situation that Jane would eventually find herself in. "Evening parties will be given occasionally , in the schoolroom, and to them will be invited a number of agreeable men, that the "young persons" may know how to behave in society; that is, hold their tongues and sit still. For the due enforcement of these properties, one of the ladies aforesaid will also be present, accompanied by her daughters, whom the scholars are to be studiously snubbed, by way of a lesson to them in meekness" (216). The girls at Lowood were certainly snubbed by Mr. Brokelhurst's wife and daughters (no doubt on many occasions), but the one lesson missing at Lowood is that of how to behave around "a number of agreeable men." Once she becomes a governess, Jane handles herself well in a gathering at Rochester's house. Even though she invited to join the group, she sits alone in a corner and does not speak to anyone. However, Jane has the audacity, rather than "holding her tongue and sitting still," to fall in love with her employer. By doing this, Jane breaks the stereotype of her rank and rises above the lessons taught by Lowood and the Governesses' Benevolent Institution. Both Brontë and Punch would applaud Jane for her actions, since her love for Rochester finally gives her ultimate happiness.
It appears that Lowood perfectly exemplifies Punch 's mock ideal of a training school for future governesses since the Governesses' Benevolent Institution strives to provide young women with, "qualifications high enough, wants few enough, and spirit humble enough, to meet the views of any lady in the land" (216). The owner of Lowood, Mr. Brockelhurst states the intention of his institution: "You are aware that my plan in bringing up these girls is, not to accustom them to habits of luxury and indulgence, but to render them hardy, patient and self-denying˛ (Bronte, 54). Both Charlotte Brontë and the satirical magazine Punch recognize the poor situation of governesses in the nineteenth century. The article in Punch merely states the problem in a comical style, but Brontë creates a realistic portrait of a young woman subjected to the very injustices that the magazine mentions. Brontë, however, allows her character to rise above the expectations of the common governess by having her break a few rules of propriety and find happiness in the love of her employer.
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