Like many of those who have written about Brontë's famous novel, Sonja Mayer, emphasizes the status of the first-person narrator, Jane herself, as a governess. Although the novel certainly emphasizes Janes experiences as a governess — if she hadn't held a position as one she would never have met Rochester — much of the action takes place when she is not a governess: her experiences as an unfairly treated orphan that begin the narrative, her time at Lowood School, her stay with St. Rivers and his household, and, of course, the end of the novel when she is a wife and mother. Which facts raise the question,

Is the narrator of Jane Eyre a governess?

Actually, no. She is not. She is a former governess, but the Jane Eyre telling the story we read is a rich heiress who has married a wealthy, if physically deformed, landowner (much of whose wealth comes from slavery in the West Indies), and, as she makes clear, she is also a mother. This being the case, why to readers so emphasize her being a governess when, as the book emphasizes, she has been a governess but is one no longer? Do we not believe either that she really has married happily — in other words, that her marriage and children are merely a tacked on conventional ending — or that happy endings do not deserve our interest as much as do the situations of the downtrodden? Was the governess, like the seamstress, a popular image that had gathered economic, political, and gender-related issues? Does some narrative strategy or, conversely, some narrative flaw make us (falsely) remember Jane as a governess?

Finally, why do narratives in poetry and prose that in many ways borrow from Jane Eyre, such as Browning's Aurora Leigh and Gaskell's North and South, make the heroine someone other than a governess?

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Website Overview Charlotte Brontë Jane Eyre

Content last modified 17 July 2004