This first-person essay was composed by A. Lady, and submitted to our reporter on parchment.
Like others recently entered in the public conversation, I, too am committed to living an authentic Victorian life. And I do assure you: there is nothing quite as Victorian as being an impoverished governess, oppressed by circumstances — who nonetheless remains in possession of a soaring spirit and chafes at confinement. *
Let me tell you a bit about my routine as such: Each morning, I wake in the cold and damp environs of a storied old mansion to spend the day imparting what knowledge I can to my young charge, Adele, who unfortunately has inherited capriciousness and vanity from her French showgirl mother (don’t get me started on the French). During the half-hour in the afternoon during which a governess of my station might spend writing letters to her acquaintance, I merely draw in my sketch-book, for all who ever loved me are dead, and my relatives yet living variously tried to murder me by throwing a book at my head and locking me in a room with the family ghosts. Is there anything more #Victorian than such a family situation as this, pray tell? In the evenings, my master sits across from me at the hearth, and interrogates me with a quizzical look in his eye, knowing full well that he has absolute power over every part of me save that rebellious spirit of mine. I really, really love the evenings.
People mock me for my choices (or an impartial observer might note, my total lack of them); for instance, one horrid tormentor of mine, named Blanche, spends much of her time, at dinner parties or sitting at the whist table, expressing contempt for me and my chosen (or, that same observer would add, forced-upon-me) lifestyle. But identity is complex, and I am proud of who I am: and true courage requires saying “F the haters!” — but only inwardly of course, lest I invoke her displeasure, which could lead to my future penury! Nonetheless I love my extremely precarious life.
Sometimes my acquaintances people I have read about express a fancy that they are living in the incorrect human form, the incorrect place, or the incorrect era. I thought such sad things about my woeful existence, too, until I came to Thornfield and realized that the other end of the string that was attached to my heart led right to my master’s heart, and that was the missing piece of me — the missing piece along with proper nourishment, comfortable bedchambers, and human affection and care, of course. I confess that harboring a hidden passion for my employer puts me in a bit of a pickle, because if my master should marry a noblewoman or someone of his class — and what’s more Victorian than a marriage of convenience? — I will be cut off from both my source of income and my only pleasurable social intercourse. But what can I say? I still love this authentic life! The yawning abyss of poverty is very #Victorian.
Recently, I’ve been pacing the hallways in the upper floors of the house, feeling a great need to break free from the various social and spiritual chains that bind me, and when I do so I hear a strange, maniacal laugh. Somehow I feel that if I pieced this unholy cackle together with the incident where someone set my master’s bedchamber on fire (which I wish I could do, but only in a metaphorical sense, of course, because #virtue and #Victorian go hand in hand!), I might unlock a great mystery. And I think that this knowledge would help me bear with my master’s tendency towards secretive moodiness, a trait which can be a bit trying (but I endure my trials with equanimity when I can, because I am so committed to this lifestyle).
Here’s the truth: One voice in my head says, “You go, girl, dig into this conundrum, unlock the clues, find the beating heart of the mystery.” And the other says, “Woman, what has having an inquisitive mind ever gotten you in life?” Injured by books, locked in chambers, forced to stand in corners holding signs attesting to your sins, sharing a bed with a consumptive Christian type who ended up being dead — that’s what it’s gotten you! Maybe, for once, just try to enjoy your incredible, DIY, authentic, freezing cold, vaguely creepy yet strangely erotic daily routine for a while, before shaking things up too much? Upon consideration, I think that’s actually the sounder course of action. If I stay committed to this path I’m on, what could possibly go wrong?
*NB: Reader, I was going to begin this column with something about taking a walk, but my editor said it wasn’t “grabby” enough!