May 30th, 2016


Suitable behaviour for an unmarried woman of 24 with an independence 1812 UK

Greetings, oh fount of amazing collected knowledge.

Miss L, who is 22 years old, has lived the past 15 years with her widowed mother in the wilds of Norfolk, UK, when she was not away at school. Alas, her mother has recently died.

Luckily, Miss L's mother and grandmother were sensible women, and ensured that money is settled on her in such a way that it stays with her, even after she is married. (Yay trusts and settlements). She has the income from £20,000 to keep her going, so that's £800 on the four-percent. This would make her attractive marriage material! (She does however keep that under wraps. Local gossip thinks she has less than half of that).

But Miss L has no intention of marrying, and will instead leave the area that holds so many sad memories for her. She wishes to go and settle somewhere and do something, but what? She really would prefer not to have to engage a mature ladies' companion (although I could rustle up an ancient great-aunt if utterly necessarily - and kill her off within a few weeks of settling in the new location). She has more than enough money to set herself up, but does not want to be idle. Nor does she want to spend huge sums of money (eg travelling) without there being some sort of return.

She would still dress appropriately, attend church, and certainly not invite young men from the pub back to her place. In other words, her behaviour on a day-to-day basis would be within the bounds of politeness.

Questions: 1) Apart from "Governess/Teacher" (ick) or going into shopkeeping, what would be a suitable occupation for an independent young woman of that time? She is intelligent, slightly better educated than many young ladies (she has accounting, middling mathematics and an understanding of some science), and able to take a couple of years to learn more.

2) Were she to set herself up in a nice little house in a town or large village, would her reputation be ruined if she only had servants, no companion? (one married couple housekeeper/gardener and a maid would do nicely)

3) If this were considered "not at all done", would that just ruin her marriage chances (Which she does not care about) and leave her as "Miss L, that eccentric lady, but we still invite her to large dinners", or would it render her unfit for any decent company and liable to be "cut" even when going to church?

Edited to add If she must have a companion, how long do you think is the maximum from when her mother dies to the engagement of said companion? Including "oh, I've written to Aunt Susan to ask her to move in here, but her sister is poorly and she may be some time."

Edited a second time to add Thank you so much to all those who responded. I shall give her a companion, but one who is dependent on Miss L for her welfare, and make sure Miss L is firm in being in charge of the situation. You're all wonderful!

Research: So many pages on Jane Austen, The impact of industrialization on (Netherlands) unmarried women’s labour force participation 1812 - 1932, assorted biographies on Jane Austen and her time, most of the relevant archives here, Social Customs and the Regency World. Articles that mentioned that just talking to the wrong person could have you censured by the community.