Monday, 27 July 2015

The trials and tribulations of being a governess

I see now more clearly than I have ever done before that a private governess has no existence, is not considered as a living and rational being except as connected with the wearisome duties she has to fulfil. (Charlotte Brontë to Emily from Stonegappe, June 1839)

IMS writes:
I enjoy very much giving lectures about the Bronte family- I go to different places and meet friendly, interesting people - I have met a relative of Mary Burder, I have spoken with a descendent of the Graham family of Norton Conyers, I have seen the names of four Brontë girls in the log book of Cowan Bridge school and I have been shown precious possessions with a Bronte connection. However to me, perhaps the most important thing is, in the course of my travels, I also learn so much myself. It is always refreshing to talk with people and hear their thoughts on that remarkable family, discover which is their favourite Bronte book and wherever I go, whoever I meet, it is heartening to realise that there is great interest in those who wrote their novels at the Parsonage in Haworth.

Last week I was lecturing on Teesside and after one lecture a lady spoke with me and told me she had once, years ago, visited the village of Lothersdale -  the village where Charlotte was a governess at Stonegappe House in 1839. She said she had taken tea in the village hall and bought a pamphlet, which she gave me, containing some delicious recipes, the menu of a dinner party held at Stonegappe and little snippets about the village and the house.

This pamphlet had been compiled by a lady whose parents-in- law had lived there for twenty years but perhaps the most interesting item in it was a short poem, author unknown, written about Charlotte’s experiences in the short time she was at Lothersdale.

Stonegappe 1839
(with apologies to Henrietta, James and Thomas)

‘Sh’ this is secret between us
Don’t tell Mama she’ll be annoyed.
But Miss Bronte is making a fuss
And she says that this is not for what she’s employed.

Quick James push the mouse under her door,
Then we will run over to the back stairs,
Don’t you think our governess is being a bore,
After all, I only did for a dare
The letter was addressed to Ellen Nussey,
I only intended it to be a joke,
Never thought she would call me a hussy
Grandpa Sidgwick looked like he would choke.

So I carefully steamed it open
How was I to know the ink would run!
As I held it to the kettle in the kitchen
Cook came in and spoiled all the fun.

Now Miss Brontë’s in her room quietly sobbing
When Mama comes home she will be fuming,
Oh come on Thomas let’s go for a ride on Dobbin
I have a feeling disaster is looming.

I was told that the James, Henrietta and Thomas were children who lived at the house in the twentieth century and I am sure that they would be not at all like the difficult Sidgwick children Charlotte dealt with in the nineteenth century.

The children are constantly with me and more riotous, perverse, unmanageable cubs never grew. A complaint to Mrs Sidgwick brings only black looks upon oneself, and unjust, partial excuses to screen the children. (Charlotte Brontë to Emily. Stonegappe June 1839)

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