student profile: Ms Philippa Janu


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Thesis work

Thesis title: �Betwixt and Between�: The Place of the Governess in the Novel of the Long Nineteenth Century

Supervisors: Vanessa SMITH , Matthew SUSSMAN

Thesis abstract:

In a letter written in 1786 that reflected on her experience as a governess, Mary Wollstonecraft wrote, “I am treated like a gentlewoman, but I cannot easily forget my inferior station – and this something betwixt and between is rather awkward.”
In its exploration of the place of the governess in the novel of the long nineteenth century, this study will locate new ways of describing and understanding the governess as a literary figure. The governess’s place “betwixt and between” will be shown to enable the figure to provide compelling insights into the ways that middle-class women are represented in novels of the long nineteenth century. This project will consider how the literary figure of the governess is positioned “betwixt and between” two dominant plot lines: those of the Bildungsroman and the marriage plot. A consideration of the governess will facilitate a reappraisal of these narrative trajectories by exposing the extent to which these common and familiar plots available to women are in fact dependent upon complex negotiations and compromises.
The thesis will feature close analysis of novels from throughout the long nineteenth century, making connections between broad narratives of history, form and genre, and close consideration of style and language. It will address the governesses on the periphery of novels by Frances Burney and Jane Austen, as well as the governess heroines that occupy a central place in the writing of Anne Brontë and Charlotte Brontë. It will also consider the use of governessing as a disguise in novels by William Makepeace Thackeray, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot and Ellen Wood, in addition to exploring the modern governesses in the work of Henry James and Dorothy Richardson. Whether the governess is central or peripheral to a novel, the figure will be shown to be capable of commenting upon, questioning, augmenting and destabilising middle-class women’s stories of education and development.

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