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Title: Life in transit : travel narratives of the British governess
Author: Pearce, Jennifer
Awarding Body: University of Hull
Current Institution: University of Hull
Date of Award: 2013
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Life in Transit: Travel Narratives of the British Governess argues that on entering the profession of governessing, women embarked on a new, more mobile existence of travel and relocation on a local and global scale. At a time when gentlewomen rarely travelled far without a chaperone, governesses left home and travelled unaccompanied across counties, countries and even continents for the purpose of work. Some relocated to wealthy households in Britain, some toured with families on the Continent, and others voyaged out to the colonies to work for expatriates or members of the Eastern aristocracy. Previously, however, scholars have tended to consider the governess in light of her unusual social status between the middle and working class. Studies of this kind do much to highlight the complexity of the governess’s situation, but by developing new theoretical perspectives which focus on the governess’s mobility, this thesis demonstrates how the impact of travel is fundamental to this. Highlighting the interplay between the governess of fact and fiction, Life in Transit defines the ‘governess travel narrative’ as a literary strand present in the canonical novel, and a sub-genre of women’s travel writing. Beginning with a re-reading of the governess novel, it considers Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847) and William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair (1848) to explore the governess’s journey in England. Moving its focus across the Channel, it then examines how the semi-autobiographical governesses of Anna Brownell Jameson’s Diary of and Ennuyée (1826) and Brontë’s Villette (1853) experience life on the Continent. Crossing the border of fact and fiction into the genre of travel writing, the thesis considers the work of the lesser-known Emmeline Lott and Ellen Chennells, and examines governess travel narratives produced at the height of the British Empire. Finally, it analyses the journeys of Sarah Heckford and Anna Leonowens, who travelling in the 1870s and 80s, reached as far as South Africa and Siam, extending the scope of women’s travel and pushing the boundaries of the governess profession. In this way, Life in Transit re-reads the governess’s plight as both a physical and psychological journey in which she attempts to understand her place in the world. Incorporating theories of travel, space, translation and ‘things’ into a framework through which to examine her experience, it builds on Marxist and feminist approaches to the governess’s position. Allowing for further analysis of the governess’s unusual status, this approach shows how, from within the liminal space of her displacement, the governess experiences her life through spatial above social relations, and provides a unique voice in nineteenth-century Britain’s conception of self and world.
Supervisor: Sanders, Valerie; Boyle, Elizabeth Sponsor: University of Hull
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: English