Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair/Advisor

Dr. Erin Goss

Committee Member

Dr. Clare Mullaney

Committee Member

Dr. Kimberly Manganelli


The governess is a widely discussed figure in literary criticism. However, the motivations that cause literary characters to engage in the profession of governess are not often talked about. This thesis discusses the three primary motivations that inspired women to become governesses—survival, duty, and calling. It begins with a historical discussion of the governess, then illustrates women’s reasons for engaging in this occupation, using literary figures from Emma, Villette, and Jane Eyre to do so. The thesis then ends with a discussion of the modern American teacher—how she differs from the governess but also shares the lack of appreciation for her work and the motivations for engaging in the work. The modern teacher also relates to the governess in the temporality of her position. This thesis inspires scholars to look at the motivations behind the stock figure of the governess and apply the same level of thought to the role of the current teacher.



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