"To Grow Up Clean": Jane Eyre and Education
Hampe, Marielle Domenique
While narratives of the Victorian governess emphasize her ambiguous social class position, this thesis argues that the advertised reason for the private governess’s employment within the home – her instruction of the family’s children – deserves ample critical attention. To investigate the Victorian governess’s educational project, I use Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847) as my focal text and incorporate additional governess novels from the period, such as Julia Buckley’s Emily, The Governess (1836) and Marguerite Gardiner’s The Governess (1839). I argue that the narrative’s omission of the governess’s work, the governess’s extracurricular education, and the destruction caused by the educational containment of foreign women ultimately destabilize and problematize the education the governess is hired to teach. This destabilization positions the governess’s work at the helm of an alternative model of education that does not advocate for “Englishness” but instead a comingling of knowledge that extends beyond England and is often learned in private communal settings.I divide my thesis into three sections representative of three pillars of education: the schoolroom, the curriculum, and the teacher. In the first section, I consider the activities of the differing schoolroom spaces Jane Eyre encounters as a pupil and teacher. With state-sponsored education not a fixture of Britain until the early twentieth century, nineteenth-century education followed social class rather than state-mandated guidelines, a finding consistent with Jane Eyre’s representation of Lowood, a charity school for educating middle-class girls; Thornfield, a private home for educating an upper-class pupil; and Morton, a village school for working-class girls. I argue that while Jane’s narrative overlooks the educational specifics of each classroom space, the upper-class private home overall lacks the qualified possibility of progress available in the educational spaces outside the home.In the next section, I interrogate a recurring verbal formula identified in my survey of nineteenth-century governess advertisements: variations of the phrases “the branches of an English education” and “a sound English education.” I assess nineteenth-century textbooks to show that these phrases signify not only academic content knowledge but also moral principles and behavioral expectations rife with tensions. Applied to Jane Eyre, I argue that Jane’s extracurricular education acquired in unstructured female communities pushes against the “Englishness” of the prescribed “sound English education.” Rather than replicate literary criticism that pairs Mr. Rochester’s West Indian wife Bertha against Jane, I pair Bertha and Adèle to show that Mr. Rochester’s desire that Adèle “grow up clean” in England represents a project of cultural containment leading to narrative erasure.My final section examines Jane’s function as teacher to the reader. I suggest that while Jane presents her knowledge as unquestionable facts in a textbook, her brief qualifiers and logical errors undercut her ultimate authority. I then draw on the botanical context of “ferns” to suggest that the novel’s conclusion at Ferndean complicates Jane’s linear progress narrative. My botanical intervention into current conversations about Ferndean suggests that rather than a garden of transplanted French flowerets, an education guided by the model of “ferns” – such as the education enjoyed by Jane in her extracurricular, female spaces – advances a vision of a hearty comingling of social classes and cultures.
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Pokorski, Robert J.; Sanderson, Patricia; Bennett, Nancy; Costanza, Mary; Dicke, Arnold A.; Eyre, Harmon; Hall, Phyllis H.; Hausman, Shawn; Lynch, Jane; Meyer, Roberta B.; Sener, Stephen; Wender, Richard; Zeitz, Kathleen (1997-09)
Pokorski, Robert J.; Sanderson, Patricia; Bennett, Nancy; Costanza, Mary; Dicke, Arnold A.; Eyre, Harmon; Hall, Phyllis H.; Hausman, Shawn; Lynch, Jane; Meyer, Roberta B.; Sener, Stephen; Wender, Richard; Zeitz, Kathleen (1997-08-01)