Those who see dark shadows

THE GOVERNESS: An Anthology ed Trev Broughton and Ruth Symes Sutton pounds 18.99

THE NANNY is going strong. Is the governess due for a comeback? She would certainly provide a modern combination of private education, child supervision and home tuition; Harriet Harman is probably hiring hers now.

If ever a job was made to feature in fiction, it is the governess. She was on the mezzanine floor between Upstairs and Downstairs, poised, in the words of Victorian novelist Mrs S C Hall, "too high for the kitchen, too low for the parlour". She was semi-detached from the servants and separate from the family, but able to scrutinise both from close quarters. Untrained, she was often better educated than her employers; she was surrounded by books, even if many of them began, "A is for Apple".

She was powerless but in a position to make more of a mark on the minds of her charges than their absentee parents - absent, that is, in the grown-up part of the house. She took toddlers and launched them into the world as young ladies and gentlemen; perhaps by a suitable marriage she launched herself into it as well. Although respectable, she was, according to Broughton and Symes, "a sexual loose cannon".

Jane Eyre would not have been possible without a governess: Mr Rochester would not have looked at a servant girl and, at the other end of the social scale, a fully-fledged lady, not being socially off-limits, would have provided no plot tension. Becky Sharp, the governess from hell in Vanity Fair, looked after Number One by looking after young children. The young heroine of The Turn of the Screw would not have started her amateur Ghostbusters operation if her job had not involved being glued to the children from morning to night. Rather lower in the literary pecking order came the Victorian equivalent of Mills and Boon: doctor-and-nurse yarns in which pretty, blushing governesses encountered handsome oldest sons.

Governessing might not only end in tears but begin with them too. The very first page of The Governess quotes an extract from a novel about a fatherless girl who, at her mother's deathbed, realised that her only career option was instilling the rudiments of learning into small children. It was a combination of au pairing and teaching English as a foreign language but it wasn't done in a gap year; it was more of a gap life. Unlike a cook, who knew that her employers would always need to eat, a governess was inevitably on a short-term contract. Her boys would be packed off to boarding school and her girls would graduate to the School of Country Life. Unlike a schoolteacher, who is at least on different premises from interfering parents, a governess had no privacy from a prying master and mistress, who could drop in at any moment to vet her lessons on the Old Testament or Deportment.

The rewards might involve the offer of five shillings a week for teaching four children from 9.30am to 5pm, according to a letter to the Times signed by "One Who Has Seen Some Dark Shadows". Even at 1852 prices, that compared poorly with road-sweeping; as the shadowy lady pointed out, roadsweepers don't have to splash out on smart dresses.

With its introductory sections and brief linking passages, The Governess is more than an anthology. But the book is also less than an anthology; the extracts are on the short side and, while this is a mercy in the case of pious essays like "A Word to a Young Governess by an Old One", it really is a pity to snip off a snippet of Charlotte Bronte in its prime.

It is also a pity that Broughton and Symes chose to end not with some kind of conclusion but with four pages from a farce that they admit is "nonsense" in which a new governess turns out to be an imposter and a thief. A more telling finale would have been a passage from "Exit Tyrannus", the Kenneth Grahame short story in which children celebrate the departure of their governess, only to realise too late that she leaves a big hole in their lives.

All this is, of course, a departed world, as long gone as the 1816 book list of essential reading for middle-class girls featuring Essays on Rhetoric from Dr Blair, Blair's Grammar of Chemistry and Blair's Advice to Youth. For some reason, they are all out of print.

Arts and Entertainment
Kristin Scott Thomas outside the Royal Opera House before the ceremony (Getty)
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Channel 4's Indian Summers
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West found himself at the centre of a critical storm over the weekend after he apparently claimed to be “the next Mandela” during a radio interview
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig and Rory Kinnear film Spectre in London
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?