Jane Eyre, Orphan Governess: Narrating Victorian Vulnerability and Social Change

  • Tamara S. WagnerEmail author
Part of the British Women’s Writing from Brontë to Bloomsbury, 1840-1940 book series (BWWFBB, volume 1)


Jane Eyre helped to shape new literary and cultural directions in the 1840s through its intersecting themes of the governess, the child, and the transposed Gothic. In bringing together two vulnerable groups, the orphaned child and the impecunious middle-class woman, the novel creates a powerful paradigm that gives high visibility to particular cultural anxieties. The figures of the orphaned child and the governess were to become a pulse point for Victorian discourses on women. While governess novels proliferated in the 1840s, challenging early Victorian domestic economy, Jane Eyre simultaneously uses the dispossessed and unprotected woman to create new forms of narrative agency.

Works Cited

  1. Arvan-Andrews, Elaine. ‘The “Lure of the Fabulous”: Gift-Book Beauties and Charlotte Brontë’s Early Heroines.’ Women’s Writing 16.2 (2009): 263–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Austen, Jane. Emma. 1816. Eds. Richard Cronin and Dorothy McMillan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.Google Scholar
  3. Bock, Carol. ‘“Our Plays”: The Brontë Juvenilia.’ In The Cambridge Companion to the Brontës. Ed. Heather Glen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. 34–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. 1847. Ed. Margaret Smith. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.Google Scholar
  5. ———. Villette. 1853. Ed. Helen M. Cooper. London: Penguin, 2004.Google Scholar
  6. Corbett, Mary Jean. ‘Orphan Stories and Maternal Legacies in Charlotte Brontë.’ In Other Mothers: Beyond the Maternal Ideal. Eds. Ellen Bayuk Rosenman and Claudia C. Klaver. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2008. 227–47.Google Scholar
  7. Coveney, Peter. Poor Monkey: The Child in Literature. 1957. Reprinted as The Image of Childhood. London: Penguin, 1967.Google Scholar
  8. Craik, W.A. The Brontë Novels. 1968. London: Routledge, 2013.Google Scholar
  9. Dickens, Charles. Martin Chuzzlewit. London: Chapman & Hall, 1844.Google Scholar
  10. Ellis, Mrs [Sarah Stickney]. The Morning Call: A Table Book of Literature and Art. London: John Tallis & Co, 1850–52. vol.1. 1850. Google Ebook. Accessed 2 April 2018.Google Scholar
  11. Gaskell, Elizabeth. The Life of Charlotte Brontë. 1857. Ed. Angus Easson. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.Google Scholar
  12. Gilbert, Sandra and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979.Google Scholar
  13. Glen, Heather. ‘Introduction.’ In Jane Eyre: New Casebooks. Ed. Heather Glen. Basingstoke, Palgrave, 1997. 1–33.Google Scholar
  14. ———. Introduction. Tales of Angria. By Charlotte Brontë. Ed. Heather Glen. London: Penguin, 2006. xi–l.Google Scholar
  15. Gore, Catherine. Mothers and Daughters: A Tale of the Year 1830. London: Colburn and Bentley, 1831.Google Scholar
  16. ———. Progress and Prejudice. 2 vols. Leipzig: Bernhard Tauchnitz, 1854.Google Scholar
  17. Hochman, Baruch and Ilja Wachs. Dickens: The Orphan Condition. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1999.Google Scholar
  18. Houghton, Walter E. The Victorian Frame of Mind, 1830–1870. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957.Google Scholar
  19. Kitson, P. J. ‘The Victorian Gothic.’ In A Companion to the Victorian Novel. Eds. William Baker and Kenneth Womack. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2002. 163–76.Google Scholar
  20. Lecaros, Cecilia Wadsö. ‘The Victorian Heroine Goes A-Governessing.’ In Silent Voices: Forgotten Novels by Victorian Women Writers. Ed. Brenda Ayres. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2003. 27–56.Google Scholar
  21. Martineau, Harriet. ‘Female Industry.’ Edinburgh Review (April 1859). Reprinted in Criminals, Idiots, Women, & Minors: Victorian Writing by Women on Women. Ed. Susan Hamilton. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview, 2004. 9–47.Google Scholar
  22. Meyer, Susan. ‘Colonialism and the Figurative Strategy of Jane Eyre.’ In Jane Eyre: New Casebooks. Ed. Heather Glen. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 1997. 92–129.Google Scholar
  23. Peterson, M. Jeanne. ‘The Victorian Governess: Status Incongruence in Family and Society.’ Victorian Studies 14.1 (1970), 7–26. Reprinted in Suffer and Be Still. Ed. Martha Vicinus. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1972. 3–19.Google Scholar
  24. Poovey, Mary. ‘The Anathematized Race: The Governess and Jane Eyre.’ In Jane Eyre: New Casebooks. Ed. Heather Glen. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 1997. 168–95.Google Scholar
  25. Review of Jane Eyre. Christian Remembrancer 15 (April 1848): 369–409. Reprinted in The Brontës: The Critical Heritage. Ed. Miriam Allott. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974. 88–92.Google Scholar
  26. Ross, Miss. The Governess; or, Politics in Private Life. 1836. London: Smith, Elder and Co, 1843.Google Scholar
  27. Shuttleworth, Sally. The Mind of the Child: Child Development in Literature, Science, and Medicine, 1840–1900. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. ‘Three Women’s Texts and a Critique of Imperialism.’ Critical Inquiry 12.1 (Autumn 1985): 235–61.Google Scholar
  29. Stone, Lawrence. The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500–1800. New York: Harper & Row, 1977.Google Scholar
  30. Wagner, Tamara S. ‘Gothic and the Victorian Home.’ In The Gothic World. Eds. Dale Townsend and Glennis Byron. New York: Routledge, 2014. 110–20.Google Scholar
  31. Watt, Ian. The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1957.Google Scholar
  32. Wilson, Cheryl A. Fashioning the Silver Fork Novel. London: Pickering & Chatto, 2012.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Humanities, College of Humanities, Arts and Social SciencesNanyang Technological UniversitySingaporeSingapore

Personalised recommendations