The advertisement in the Hertford Gazette simply read:
“Governess wanted. A good situation in Derbyshire. Salary to be discussed upon appointment. Contact Mr Thorpe, 7 Allenham Street, London."
Elizabeth Bennet penned the address at the top of the letter she was composing to Mr Thorpe who Elizabeth assumed had listed the advertisement. After a few reviews of similarly listed jobs, Elizabeth was now familiar with what the job entailed depending on the choice of words used. If the family name was listed as well as their residence and the wage she would be receiving, this usually entailed a well to do sort that had enough to move among respectable circles. On the other hand, if details were scarce and there was a middle man to correspond with such as a solicitor or housekeeper, then it was almost guaranteed to be a titled family or one that was well to do that it was necessary to make the process of hiring strenuous.
Although Elizabeth sought a situation that would endow her well financially, she was not concerned about who would be the means by which she would now earn a living. With this thought in mind she continued the letter to Mr Thorpe listing the qualities that would make her outstanding from other eligible applicants, including her previous experience as a governess for two households.
The door to the library opened announcing the arrival of the only other resident beside herself who found refuge in the confines of this particular room. Elizabeth only looked up from her letter when the entrant addressed her.
Elizabeth smiled at her father who was advancing to the rocking chair by the window which faced the front garden. Mr Bennet enjoyed this seat not only for its comfort, for it was well cushioned or proximity to the fire which never seemed to die but also because it afforded him an advantageous view of the lane so as to spot any guests that might wish to intrude on the Bennet family’s peace. No matter the status of the visitor, Mr Bennet always considered any visitor an intruder.
“Are you certain you have never considered taking an occupation as a hermit?” Elizabeth had once teased her father. Mr Bennet had merely responded with a soft chuckle and clucked his tongue to show how he both enjoyed the teasing from his favourite daughter but also disapproved of being teased as such.
“If finding advertisements that seem to want to remove me further from Hertfordshire can be considered luck then I am in luck” Elizabeth’s smile broadened. She rose from the chair and joined her father near the window where she leaned on the bookshelf so that she was facing her father.
“Must you leave us?” Mr Bennet asked. He had this question a few times since Elizabeth had announced to the family that she was once again seeking employment as a governess. The first time Elizabeth had made such an announcement some three years prior, had resulted in a scene that, if Elizabeth possessed the talent of drawing as her elder sister Jane did, she would have captured the moment in a painting or perhaps in the style of the Hertford Gazette’s cartoonist.
It had been a cold, Tuesday morning in February and like many mornings in Longbourn house, breakfast was the scene of both chaos and peace. The ladies of the house, save for Elizabeth, Jane and Mary, were recounting the tales from the previous day’s visit to the nearby town of Meryton. Elizabeth and Jane were engaged in a conversation with their father who sat at the head of the table relaying news from the latest edition of the paper. Mary was similarly situated but was focused on a novel, no doubt procured from her father’s library. Unlike Elizabeth and Mr Bennet, who loved reading in the library, Mary preferred to read in her room and so only set foot in the library to borrow or return her latest fancy.
As breakfast carried on with Mrs Bennet, Kitty & Lydia being the source of most of the chatter, Anna, one of the two Longourn housemaids, arrived in the breakfast room to deliver a letter for Elizabeth. Had it not been for Lydia’s quickness of hand, as she was the most proximate to the door when Anna entered, the scene might not have unfolded as it did. However, as is the case whenever there is a secret about, it must eventually be revealed.
“Lydia!” Elizabeth reproached as she attempted to take the letter from Lydia with no luck. Mary who was seated between Elizabeth and Lydia narrowly missed being walloped in the cheek by Elizabeth’s hand reaching across to Lydia.
“Brighton? Who could possibly be writing to you from Brighton?” Lydia enquired drawing the letter further away from Elizabeth’s reach. This had prompted Elizabeth to stand up and come around the table to where Lydia was seated. However, Mrs Bennet had proceeded to add more vexation for Elizabeth by prying the letter out of Lydia’s hand and observing the address.
“Captain Gould!” Mrs Bennet exclaimed excitedly. “My dear is there something that you need to tell us?” Mrs Bennet said as she extended her hand to prevent Elizabeth from reaching the letter. If Elizabeth did not think huffing was undignified and akin to behaviour more likely exhibited by Lydia or Kitty, she would have stomped her foot and huffed out of frustration.
“Mama you need not concern yourself about who Captain Gould is or the contents of the letter.” Elizabeth attempted to be civil in the hopes of diverting her mother’s curiosity. However, Elizabeth knew that once Mrs Bennet’s curiosity was piqued there was nothing that would temper it until she had been satisfied. It was made worse when the subject of her curiosity involved the possibility of marriage for one of her five daughters.
“A man can only be writing to a woman for one reason,” Mrs Bennet continued ignoring Elizabeth’s attempt to procure the letter. Anna, who was still lurking by the door, looked decidedly afraid, recognising the mistake she had made in announcing the letter instead of waiting to hand the letter directly to Elizabeth when the family concluded breakfast. Anna now remembered that Elizabeth had asked her a few weeks prior to direct any letters addressed to Elizabeth to no other member of the family.
“Mama please?” Elizabeth pleaded as she sensed there was no recourse from the situation unfolding. Mrs Bennet proceeded to use her knife to break the seal and read the letter which was written as follows:
“Dear Miss Bennet
Mrs Gould and I are pleased to have received your letter expressing interest in employment as a governess for our two children. We would like to offer you employment for the amount stated in the advertisement with other particulars to be discussed upon your arrival. If it is agreeable, we can expect you to arrive by midday on the last Saturday of the month to commence your duties. A carriage shall await you at Brighton where you will proceed to our residence at Manning House. Ask for a Mr Pope in The Swan Inn. We look forward to your arrival.
Yours respectfully, Captain Frederick Gould.”
For the entirety of her reading of the letter, the only tell that what Mrs Bennet was reading was not pleasant news was the movement of her eyes which at first reflected the curiosity of one coming upon a new discovery but gradually widened and narrowed accordingly as she concluded the letter. Elizabeth felt uneasy as she registered that instead of her mother falling into a fit of hysteria as Mrs Bennet was prone to, she instead stared at Elizabeth as if she was truly seeing her for the first time. Mrs Bennet’s silence was not anticipated by Elizabeth, neither were the horrified looks shared by Lydia and Kitty who, in their excitement and curiosity had vacated their seats to join Mrs Bennet in the reading of the letter.
“Governess?” Lydia and Kitty chorused but once again Lydia had been the quickest to withdraw the letter from her mother whose hold on the letter had slackened. Lydia then proceeded to read the contents of the letter to the rest of the family at rapid speed as if through reading it again she would decipher the truth of a message that had no hidden meaning.
Elizabeth used the opportunity to look away from her mother’s teary eyes to look at the rest of her family who were also absorbing the letter. She was met with a mixture of disappointment, sympathy and confusion but worst of all was her father’s disappointment. Mr Bennet was always taciturn and rarely showed his hand like her mother but his brown eyes, so like Elizabeth’s own in their shade, never concealed his emotion. Elizabeth despised herself for drawing such an expression from them.
Though Elizabeth had repeatedly chanted the mantra: “this is for the good of the family” as she had sent out the letter of application a few weeks prior, she could no longer hold onto that justification. Elizabeth understood that regardless of the purity of her intentions, to her family and especially to her parents, seeking employment as a means to alleviate the family’s financial woes was a sign of how Longbourn’s meagre estate of two thousand a year was not sufficient to raise five daughters. Although not intended, Mr and Mrs Bennet would not view it as anyone’s failing but theirs.
“Governess?” Lydia repeated looking disbelievingly at Elizabeth.
“Lizzie, are you going to be a governess for this Captain Gould?” Kitty’s question followed as she came to stand beside Lizzy.
Mrs Bennet then proceeded to wail.
“Oh Lizzie,” Jane stood up to comfort Elizabeth. Elizabeth knew she should have confided in her sister and dearest friend, but she also knew that Jane would not take this as a slight.
“Ladies may you please leave your mother and Elizabeth and I alone,” Mr Bennet commanded quietly. Kitty and Lydia protested, pointing to the state of their unfinished breakfast.
“Take your plates with you,” Mr Bennet added. Any retort Lydia or Kitty had was swallowed as Mr Bennet levelled them with a look that showed the amount of patience he had or lack thereof. Jane acted quickly leading the young women to exit the room with their breakfast plates. Lydia mumbled something incoherent but made sure she was audible when she hooted “Governess? And I thought you were the smart one Lizzy!”.
“Papa, Mama…,” Elizabeth started when her sisters had departed but Mr Bennet held up his hand indicating for Elizabeth to resume her seat. Feeling that seating next to her father might appear as if she was taking sides, though the reactions of both her parents did not indicate any such cordiality, Elizabeth took what had previously been Mary’s seat in the middle of the table.
“How could you?” Mrs Bennet finally spoke having recovered herself. “A governess? What will everyone say? The daughter of a gentleman taking up a position as a governess. Do you have any idea how we will be ridiculed? No, how can you have any idea, you are always acting as if you are above the rest of society. So unaffected by how others perceive you. If you had any modicum of sense you would have never shamed yourself and the family by seeking employment.” Mrs Bennet’s face now resembled a shade of mauve and Elizabeth was afraid that if Mrs Bennet took another breath the seams of her bodice would rip from the pressure.
Elizabeth remained silent for she knew there was no wisdom in challenging Mrs Bennet when she was on a tirade.
“Mr Bennet this cannot be allowed,” Mrs Bennet continued looking beseechingly at her husband. “She is only eighteen and already she wants to be independent of us. How can she hope to ever be married if she is frolicking around England seeking employment?” Elizabeth resisted the urge to roll her eyes at her mother’s singular focus on her marital status.
“I do not think there will be any frolicking,” Mr Bennet started. Mrs Bennet looked at him disapprovingly.
“Now is not the time to vex me Mr Bennet,” Mrs Bennet warned.
“That is not my intention my dear,” Mr Bennet responded calmly. “I am only trying to highlight that such a position as a governess does not involve frolicking, for one is almost always confined to her employer’s residence.”
Elizabeth was not sure if Mr Bennet was being vexatious and thus siding with Elizabeth or if he really was merely stating a fact about being a governess. Whatever his intention Mrs Bennet did not receive his statement well.
“How is any of what you are saying relevant?” she said disbelievingly to her husband, almost knocking over her teacup. “Our daughter is about to bring ruin to this family!”
At this, Elizabeth’s previous restraint could not hold, and she finally addressed her mother. “Ruin? I hardly think that seeking respectable employment can be described as bringing ruin to the family. I might as well elope with the farmhand while I am at it, if a noble intention is equated to disreputable pursuits.”
“Now you listen here young lady!” Mrs Bennet proceeded to point at Elizabeth preparing to launch into another tirade. However, with an uncharacteristically bellowed “Silence!”, Mr Bennet stopped any more conversation between his wife and second eldest daughter.
Mr Bennet sighed and looked between Elizabeth, who was looking at her hands to try and stop the simmering anger at the unexpected reception of what she believed was good news and his wife who was now looking away from her husband and daughter.
“I am disappointed Elizabeth,” Mr Bennet proceeded after another heavy sigh. Elizabeth’s teary eyes met her father’s. He never called her by her full name unless referring to her in formal society or he was angry, which he hardly ever was. “Not in the fact that you applied for a position as a governess, but that you did not confide in us before doing so. Although I understand your reluctance, for this display has shown that it is not welcome news, but I would still have much preferred if we were made aware of your intentions.”
The words brought some relief to Elizabeth who knew that her father’s disappointment did not mean disapproval for her to take up the position.
“Your mother is correct,” he continued. Elizabeth suspected this was done to appease her mother rather than necessarily acknowledging the truth in her words. “You are not of majority and as such allowing you to take up such a position entails unimaginable risks. Who is this Captain Gould? What expectations does he have of you? Will you receive adequate remuneration?”
Elizabeth nodded in understanding, thankful that Mr Bennet agreed with Mrs Bennet about matters of practicality not those dictated by society such as how seeking employment would impact on her standing as a young woman of marriageable age.
“I wish I could provide more than I do,” Mr Bennet continued but at this Elizabeth reached and clasped her father’s hands trying to alleviate some of the guilt she knew her father felt at having failed to capitalise on the estate. “No Lizzy, that is a fault I cannot deny. The state of the estate is such that upon my death, I will leave you all very little. For all we know, my cousin Collins might wish for you to vacate this house at the moment he receives the news of my death.” Mr Bennet chuckled humourlessly and Elizabeth squeezed his hands even more. “That is why, although sometimes misguided, your mother seeks to see you all securely married to men of considerable fortune!” At this Mr Bennet laughed and smiled fondly at his wife.
Mrs Bennet still would not look at her husband but no longer wore the expression of anger she had earlier in the discussion. Even though this occasion did not call for it, Elizabeth cherished these moments when her father showed affection for his mother. Sometimes she feared he neglected her too much.
“So, Lizzy,” Mr Bennet smiled, now clasping her hands in his. “Although it breaks my heart to think of you leaving us, know that I am also very proud that you are willing to secure your future. And to both you and Mrs Bennet I say, what business is it of those in society who will ridicule or laugh? If they had half of the courage you possess Lizzy, then maybe our society would be much improved.”
The memory still brought a smile to Elizabeth’s face, even when she recalled how her mother ignored her for the rest of her stay at Longbourn until she embraced her so fiercely upon her departure that Mr Bennet had to pry her away from Elizabeth.
“O Papa, you know that I never truly leave you”, Elizabeth crouched beside her father. “I always come back do I not?”
As if also reawakening from the same memory, Mr Bennet smiled and rubbed softly at Elizabeth’s chin. He did not want to admit it but he knew that soon, rather than later, she would be leaving the family permanently to either take up a position as a governess or teacher on the Continent or to assume the role of a wife. After all Mr Bennet knew he had been the main reason why she had returned home.
Her employment with the Goulds had lasted a year after which Captain Gould was promoted to a post in the West Indies and decided to migrate with his whole family. Although the Goulds had extended an invitation for Elizabeth to continue her employment with them, for she had been outstanding with their children for someone inexperienced, Elizabeth was not yet ready to part from her family any farther than she already had. So, she had returned home to Longbourn for the first, but not the last time, for the position with the Goulds had awakened in her a passion to teach that she did not know she had possessed and also stoked her independent spirit.
Elizabeth had then sought another position as a governess for the Turners in Essex which had lasted for six months. The short period was owing to Mrs Turner’s sister, Margaret Bates who was a teacher at a French preparatory school, informing Elizabeth of a vacancy at the school for an English and music teacher. Elizabeth was not formally qualified and had never travelled to the Continent, but she had seized the opportunity, for it promised adventure. France was farther than she wanted to be from home but she could withstand that distance than the West Indies. Although not as proficient in music as her sister, Mary, Elizabeth’s love for music and in particular singing had secured her the position. However, Elizabeth had to return home in December of the previous year when Mr Bennet had fallen ill. Now that he had recovered, she felt it was once again time to move on albeit to somewhere closer to home than France.
“Who will be taking you away from us now and to where?” Mr Bennet asked.
“If this gentleman, a Mr Thorpe finds my letter of application to be to his liking then I will be working for his employer somewhere in Derbyshire. Mr Thorpe does not state that he is writing on behalf of his employer, but I have now come to understand how these letters are worded.” Elizabeth moved back to the desk to seal the letter ready for delivery to the post office.
“Well, if the family is of good fortune perhaps you may direct the gentleman’s brothers or cousins, if he may have any, to one of your sisters. That might please Mrs Bennet.” Father and daughter laughed.
“For it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife,” Elizabeth quipped to which her father roared with laughter. Elizabeth was pleased to have elicited such a response and smiled as she made her way to the door. “I shall be sure to keep an eye open for any potential husbands for my sisters, father. In the mean-time let me make haste for the post office.”
Mr Thorpe’s response arrived three weeks later and with it came the confirmation of Elizabeth's employment with a Mr Darcy who resided at Pemberley. She would be responsible for two charges, whose names were not disclosed in the letter; a daughter and son who were both aged seven. She was to teach them reading, writing and arithmetic and depending on their progress, some French and music. Elizabeth would have loved to teach children who were not at the beginning stages of their education, for she had enjoyed teaching music to the young women in France, but she could appreciate an opportunity to nurture young children again. As was stated in the advertisement, her salary would be discussed when she arrived.
A week after the response arrived Elizabeth was due to depart for Pemberley. This would mark just over three years since she had received the letter from Captain Gould to take employment as a governess.
“I am so proud of you Lizzy,” Elizabeth’s elder sister Jane said the night before her departure. Jane was plaiting Elizabeth’s hair into a braid in preparation for bed. Their shared bedroom was dimly lit with the candles placed around the dresser and bedside table to better view the task at hand.
“Jane, you make me sound like I am an explorer about to venture out on my latest expedition,” Elizabeth smiled at her sister.
“If leaving the comforts of one’s home and familiar company can not be considered as brave as what the most adventurous of explorers do then I am not sure what else can be,” Jane stated securing Elizabeth’s braid with a ribbon. “I mean many young women, at least gentlemen’s daughters, would rather maintain the illusion of stability than seek a better situation in employment.”
“That is true Jane but many young women also value marriage and unlike my critical nature to the state, not all ladies, especially not gentlemen’s daughters, wish to jeopardise their security,” Elizabeth said. Elizabeth knew she was exceptional in not letting the desire for marriage dictate her behaviour. Although surrounded by a mother and siblings who spoke greatly on the matter, Elizabeth had always felt apart from the conversation. Not because she did not one day envision herself settled but she did not desire the security of marriage at the expense of her heart. Elizabeth wanted to love and be loved by the man who married her.
“Which is why I repeat that I am proud of you for being secure in the knowledge that you can enjoy the pleasures the world has to offer without solely relying on the capabilities of a man to provide those pleasures,” Jane continued passionately. Passion was not commonly exhibited by Jane but when it was, it always inspired Elizabeth when her spirits were low.
“Well thank you sister,” Elizabeth acknowledged the praise. “Although you should not allow Mama to hear you speaking such words. You might just lose your position as her most treasured daughter.”
“Shush Lizzy! Mama loves us equally,” Jane admonished, although her eyebrows furrowed slightly as even she could not deny that Mrs Bennet would not rejoice at Jane encouraging what Mrs Bennet had deemed “wild behaviour” on Elizabeth’s part. After three years, Mrs Bennet still did not speak proudly of Elizabeth’s occupation. To Mrs Bennet, Elizabeth’s employment was a necessary evil; on one hand she appreciated that it was of benefit to the estate to have one less mouth to feed but on the other she also resented that it shattered the illusion of the social standing she had always strived to maintain in Longbourn. Elizabeth had once overheard her Aunt Gardiner encouraging Mrs Bennet to understand that times had changed and some young ladies, even gentlemen’s daughters, now had to make their own way in the world.
“You will continue to write to me?” Elizabeth asked after some silent moments passed where the sisters were focused on their own thoughts.
“I will never stop for as long as we are not in each other’s company. And I might even include a painting or two to remind you of home,” Jane beamed at Elizabeth, eyes watering.
“I would love that very much,” Elizabeth’s breath caught.
Jane embraced her. “How I will miss you Lizzy.”
“And I, you,” Elizabeth responded, fighting to hold back tears. The two stayed that way until they had to part to retreat into their shared bed. They shared stories from childhood and laughed until sleep claimed them in the early hours of the morning.