This article considers the all too common experience of precarious employment in higher education, but under a unique set of circumstances: a three-year postdoctoral fellowship and residency in a stately home in the English countryside. The author explains how she harnesses the pedagogical possibilities of her precarity by operating a policy of radical honesty with her students, both inside and outside of the classroom. As a Victorianist, she petitioned to teach texts, including Jane Eyre, that allowed her to explore contingent academic labor with her students and compare the plight of the nineteenth-century governess—poorly paid, forced to lead an itinerant existence, and subject to dismissal when she outlived her utility—to the conditions that many academics currently face. She invites her students to share their struggles, and for her part, she frankly shares the difficulties of being a precarious academic, in the hopes of creating a place of mutual understanding, support, and solidarity.
In the Governess’s Room: Fostering Student-Faculty Solidarity through Radical Honesty
Amber Pouliot is a scholar of nineteenth-century literature and culture, with interests in the Brontë family, life writing, and literary tourism. She has published on various aspects of the Brontës’ reception and is coeditor of the Charlotte and Emily Brontë bicentenary issues of Victorians: A Journal of Culture and Literature. She is also coeditor of the forthcoming “Placing the Author: Ecologies of Literary Tourism” issue of Nineteenth-Century Contexts and author of six essays on the novels of Henry Siddons for the Cambridge Guide to the Eighteenth-Century Novel, 1660 – 1820.
Amber Pouliot; In the Governess’s Room: Fostering Student-Faculty Solidarity through Radical Honesty. Pedagogy 1 October 2019; 19 (3): 531–536. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/15314200-7615519
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