Friday, April 27, 2018

What’s a (Poor) Lady to Do?

We have, over the years, discussed the activities and challenges of the young lady of the Regency period, as well as her somewhat limited career choices. Novels abound of gently reared ladies having to make do when circumstances conspire against them. My Fortune’s Brides series features gentlewomen down on their luck, so I’ve been doing some pondering as to what the actual choices were for such women, particularly those who are not looking to marry and would prefer not to lower her status terribly. Here are a few ideas:

  • Governess—The old standby. If you’ve survived a Season or two, if you learned some history and science along the way, perhaps another language such as French, you probably have what it takes to teach other young ladies. A slight variation on this would be a finishing school teacher, but those were somewhat rare in the Regency (even though I’ve given my heroines that profession in at least two stories 😊).
  • Nanny—I see this frequently, and I’ve certainly used it myself, but I haven’t found too many contemporary sources claiming a young lady who had been raised for finer things took it upon herself to become a nanny. Still, if you had a motherly instinct, if you were raised with many brothers and sisters, and if you were willing to be seen as a servant, you might be able to handle this position.
  • Housekeeper for a relative—this is a difficult one. Technically, a housekeeper is a servant position, although higher on the servant food chain. But if you served a relative who was willing to treat you more like family so that the role was more of chatelaine, this one might do.
  • Lady’s maid—another difficult one. Again, you are a servant, and chances are you won’t be mixing socially with the upper crust. But if you are a dab hand at sewing, know your way around a cosmetic jar, and have a good ear, you could do well here.
  • Companion—another old standby. Families seem to have a plethora of aged female relations who require someone to fetch and carry, to share confidences, to help with daily care and entertainment. And there’s always the off chance that said relative will be kind in her will.
  • Assistant—I’ll be using this one in my fourth Fortune’s Brides series, but it is a challenging one as well. Secretaries and personal attaches were generally men serving men. A lady really cannot spend time alone with a gentleman. But say a prominent lady, who doesn’t want to claim her age requires a companion or needs specialized skills? Perhaps.
  • Sponsored artist—Sometimes your gift could be your livelihood. Wealthy patrons might sponsor a painter, a musician, or a composer. Most of these sponsored positions went to men, and it would look odd for a lady to be sponsored by a gentleman. But, under the right circumstances, I could see a woman sponsoring another woman.
So, what do you think? Have you heard of other ways for an impoverished young lady to keep her head and her dignity above water?

No comments: