A Young Lady of some education

October 8, 2011 at 12:21 pm (books, diaries, history, jasna, research) (, , , , , , , , , )

In working on some ideas for Emma, I’ve been reviewing a book I bought a couple months ago (and which was delayed about a month, thanks to US Customs…), Diary of a Betley Governess in 1812. Editor Mavis E. Smith had won me over with her earlier book on the Betley Hall household with the publication of Ellen Tollet’s diary of 1835.

My Emma — Miss Emma Smith — began her diary-keeping in 1815. Or, at least that is the earliest so far found! I do live in hope of more items, so why not hope for earlier diaries written by Emma, too? There is certainly talk of the schoolroom, their governesses, “holidays” granted for birthdays or visitors. The Smiths seem a happy family, with well-liked (loved even) governesses.

Then you read a book like that based on the unnamed governess to the four Tollet daughters of Betley Hall! I don’t know who to pity more: the girls for having this governess; or the young {presume…} lady given the task of educating four rambunctious girls?

Mavis Smith clearly has opinions on the strict governess, for she asks once or twice if the woman might not be a bit “unbalanced”. Yet, reviewing Mamma Smith’s assessment of her youngest child, Maria, which Jacky in Maidstone is lucky enough to own, don’t I find some choice comments made about this little scholar by her governess. For instance, written in December 1820, “Maria has shown more violence of temper, more irritability & impertinence I thought had belonged to her character; Miss Pond {the governess} has made frequent & strong complaints of her”. Yet my beloved Mamma follows up with these thoughts, “She {Maria} is not yet seven years old, & one cannot expect reason to be all powerful at that age.”

Any wonder why Mamma Smith is just a delight to know? From her diaries, and especially her letters, I have experienced many moments of laughter. (Mike H. at Tring Park School knows her “humour” as she describes the next tenants of Tring Park with some choice words!)

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Off on another topic: The end of this week sees the much-anticipated JASNA AGM and the discussion of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, which was published 200 years ago (1811-2011). Wish me luck on presenting my paper! And I certainly hope I don’t get stuck at some airport, overnight, like I did last time I flew…

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