The best books about a governess

3 authors have picked their favorite books about governess and why they recommend each book.

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A Foreign Affair

By Caro Peacock,

Book cover of A Foreign Affair

The year is 1837 and Liberty is a fiercely independent young woman. The story begins with her crossing the Channel to find her father, only to discover that he had recently been killed in a duel. In the course of investigating what had happened, she comes upon a plot that involves treason, with the potential to spark another civil war.

What I love about Peacock’s work is her use of imagery in echoing a character’s psyche or situation. Horse lovers will enjoy Liberty’s relationship with her horse and her growing friendship with her good-hearted stable hand. I have not yet put my finger on it, but for some reason, I feel a hint of Edgar Allen Poe when I read her books.


Who am I?

As a fine arts major alumnus of Lake Forest College and Illinois Wesleyan University, I have written a variety of works, fiction and non, throughout my professional life. My preferred literary escape became the genre of British Mystery. I learned much from reading Martha Grimes in the 1990s. Her use of interplay between a character’s internal psychic landscape and the surrounding one interested me. As a mystery writer, I employ what I think of as light brushstrokes of the cozy genre while aiming for some depth of prose. A Lark Ascending has been described as an engaging escape from today.


I wrote...

A Lark Ascending

By John B. Campbell,

Book cover of A Lark Ascending

What is my book about?

Malcolm Roberts, a young man in 1920s London, finds himself struggling with the sudden and immense changes that resulted from the Great War. With his once affluent family now in tatters, this adolescent is searching for purpose and finds life exciting and vibrant in the nearby Dickensian-still East End. But when he stumbles upon the mysterious plot of a group of vigilantes bent on attacking the Chinese vicinage of Limehouse, he and an unlikely collection of friends must shoulder the burden.

And shoulder it they must after grappling with a corrupt constabulary. Malcolm’s fledgling emotions with a first-love experience complicates matters, as does happening upon a murder. Will he and his friends succeed? Only the reader will find out.

The Little Princesses

By Marion Crawford,

Book cover of The Little Princesses: The Story of the Queen's Childhood by Her Nanny, Marion Crawford

"I really don’t know what we’re going to do with Margaret, Crawfie!" declared Lilibet anxiously to the original nanny diarist. "Poor Lil," responded Margaret, when rumours of her sister’s romance with Philip hit the papers. "Nothing of your own. Not even your love affair!" In the US, this first inside account of life with the modern royals boosted the circulation of the Ladies’ Home Journal magazine by half a million. But in Britain, Buckingham Palace complained that the letters quoted from the princesses breached royal copyright and insisted they be removed. Lilibet never forgave Crawfie for the betrayal embodied in this sickly, but oh-so-revealing tome.  


Who am I?

Robert Lacey is credited with changing the way that people read and write about the British monarchy. In 1977 his tell-it-how-it-is Majesty: Elizabeth II and the House of Windsor overturned the clichés of the traditional ‘royal book’, hitherto the preserve of ex-nannies and obsequious court correspondents. As a Cambridge-trained historian of the first Elizabethan age – his biographies Robert, Earl of Essex and Sir Walter Ralegh won critical acclaim – the young journalist added the investigative techniques of his work on the Sunday Times to portray the monarchy in a fresh and analytical fashion. Robert is today Historical Consultant to the Netflix TV series The Crown.


I wrote...

Majesty: Elizabeth II and the House of Windsor

By Robert Lacey,

Book cover of Majesty: Elizabeth II and the House of Windsor

What is my book about?

By every measure of reason and logic, monarchy has long outgrown its usefulness. So why does the modest, horse-and-corgi-loving Queen Elizabeth II continue to exert such affection in hearts around the world? That’s the question I started trying to answer in Majesty – and I have been trying to answer it ever since. 

Journey to the River Sea

By Eva Ibbotson, Kevin Hawkes (illustrator),

Book cover of Journey to the River Sea

I’m always on the lookout for fiction in which the writing itself is dazzling. Eva Ibbotson’s prose is truly something to savour and this novel is the jewel in her crown. Maia, an orphan, is sent from England to stay with distant relatives, the Carters, in Manaus, Brazil. The family is weird and mean but Maia finds two young friends—Clovis, an actor, and Finn, who is partly a Brazilian native, but heir to his British grandfather’s fortune. Clovis longs to return to England and Finn happily changes places with him. Finn and Maia journey down the Amazon (the “River Sea”) to live with his Xanti people. Expect humour, high adventure, and a richly-detailed look at life in early 20th century Brazil.


Who am I?

As a child, I was an avid reader and particularly fell in love with historical fiction. My favourite corner for reading was on top of the woodbox by my grandmother’s cookstove. Warm and cozy, I delved into such books as Geoffrey Trease’s Cue for Treason and Jack Schaeffer’s Shane. How wonderful to land for a few hours in the world of Shakespeare’s London or the grasslands of the frontier west. When I worked as a children’s librarian and then began writing books myself, this early love has remained with me—so it factored into the books I chose for schools—and some of the novels I wrote such as The Runaway and Firebird.


I wrote...

Firebird

By Glen Huser,

Book cover of Firebird

What is my book about?

Set during World War I when thousands of Ukrainian immigrants were interned in concentration camps all across Canada, Firebird follows the journey of fourteen-year-old Alex Kaminsky, searching for an older brother who has disappeared. Riding the rails, staying with an immigrant Norwegian family in Edmonton and then, when authorities are on his trail, finding sanctuary with an elderly school teacher in Calgary, Alex finally discovers Marco close to death in a camp in Banff. 

My hope is that Firebird will allow young people of today to walk for a while in the shoes of these Canadian immigrant boys—back in the midst of a war that tore families apart not only on the battlefields of Europe but in the quieter corners of Canada.

Jane Eyre

By Charlotte Brontë,

Book cover of Jane Eyre

You may say this isn’t classic horror, it’s a love story. But is it? Set in a castle on the wild moors of northern England, this is a dark tale of casual cruelty, jealousy, and revenge that depicts an age of harsh regimes where the ruling classes held sway over the fate of everyone else. 

Jane is totally at the mercy of her vindictive aunt who locks her in the red room with the ghost of her uncle, then abandons her to a school for orphans. Her best friend dies in her bed and it’s astounding the rest don’t die of cold. However, the real horror begins after she takes a post as governess to the glowering Mr. Rochester. Perhaps it’s the dark stone walls flickering in the candlelight, the quick rapid footsteps in the corridor outside her room, or most likely the mad cackling laughter in the dead of…


Who am I?

I’m an English author and an ex-nurse (psychiatry). Many years ago, when I was writing for magazines and floundering for direction, I met a woman who’d been hurt by ritual satanic abuse. She disturbed me badly, and I began to research the subject, becoming passionate about showing how evil affects people, and how fear and mind games are woven into the fabric of life, carrying on through families. I’ve also loved discovering beautiful prose and how to express the complexities of the human condition. I was reading my mum’s cast-off Victoria Holt novels at age seven, so perhaps I should add my other passion—simply books.      


I wrote...

Father of Lies

By S.E. England,

Book cover of Father of Lies

What is my book about?

Ruby is the most violently disturbed patient ever admitted to Drummersgate Asylum, high on the bleak moors of northern England. With no improvement after two years, Dr. Jack McGowan finally decides to take a risk and hypnotises her. With terrifying consequences. A horrific dark force is now unleashed on the entire medical team, as each in turn attempts to unlock Ruby's shocking and sinister past. Who is this girl? And how did she manage to survive such unimaginable evil? Set in a desolate ex-mining village, where secrets are tightly kept and intruders hounded out, their questions soon lead to a haunted mill, the heart of darkness...and The Father of Lies...

The Governesses

By Anne Serre, Mark Hutchinson (translator),

Book cover of The Governesses

This French novella was written in the early ’90s but translated in 2019 to English for the first time. It lacks structure and is full of plot holes, but Serre’s writing is equal parts whimsical and erotic. It feels a bit like she wrote it in one sitting during some kind of fever dream but that’s why it feels like a poem. If you’re into chaotic women and turn of the century kink, then this is for you.


Who am I?

I’ve been writing poetry for most of my life and only recently began a real crash course in fiction with my first novel. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but not for the reasons I thought. In poetry, you learn to locate meaning, but you don’t learn narrative structure. Who knew being an existential genius was easier than finishing a sentence? Once I started studying literature that I felt embodied both, I was able to visualize how my poetic voice wasn’t just applicable, but useful, in the world of fiction.


I wrote...

Life of the Party: Poems

By Olivia Gatwood,

Book cover of Life of the Party: Poems

What is my book about?

Lauded for the power of her writing and having attracted an online fan base of millions for her extraordinary spoken-word performances, Olivia Gatwood now weaves together her own coming-of-age with an investigation into our culture’s romanticization of violence against women. At times blistering and riotous, at times soulful and exuberant, Life of the Party explores the boundary between what is real and what is imagined in a life saturated with fear.

Gatwood asks, How does a girl grow into a woman in a world racked by violence? Where is the line between perpetrator and victim? In precise, searing language, she illustrates how what happens to our bodies can make us who we are.

The Turn of the Screw

By Henry James,

Book cover of The Turn of the Screw

This classic ghost story follows a young governess who takes up a position at a mysterious country house. She is soon plagued by the appearance of two figures she believes to be ghosts, and slowly, as past events are revealed, she understands that the threat to her and the children in her care is real. I loved the sense of growing threat and panic that is weaved into everyday events, even as our narrator becomes increasingly unreliable. I think this uncertainty adds to the fear factor – if we can’t trust our own perceptions, what can we trust? What might we do? That’s a terrifying thought. 


Who am I?

I’m a historical novelist and love gothic ghost stories that send a shiver down my spine and have me sleeping with the lights on. (I love the nightmares less!) As a history lover I’m drawn to historical settings and when I decided to write my own ghost story, it was natural to set it in the past. I revisited many of my favourite ghost stories while writing The Coffin Path and explored classics of the genre too. This list represents the best. Not only are they great scary stories, but they do what all brilliant historical novels should do and bring the past to life, even while raising the dead.


I wrote...

The Coffin Path

By Katherine Clements,

Book cover of The Coffin Path

What is my book about?

An eerie and compelling ghost story set in the dark wilds of the Yorkshire moors. For fans of The Witchfinder's Sister and The Silent Companions, this gothic tale will weave its way into your imagination and chill you to the bone.

Maybe you've heard tales about Scarcross Hall, the house on the old coffin path that winds from village to moor top. They say there's something up here, something evil. Mercy Booth isn't afraid. The moors and Scarcross are her home and lifeblood. But, beneath her certainty, small things are beginning to trouble her. When a stranger appears seeking work, Mercy reluctantly takes him in. As their stories entwine, this man will change everything. She just can't see it yet.

Nine Coaches Waiting

By Mary Stewart,

Book cover of Nine Coaches Waiting

An oldie but goodie, first published in 1958, this beautifully written novel of suspense and romance is often compared to Daphne du Maurier’s masterpiece Rebecca. I actually prefer Nine Coaches Waiting, with its nod to Bronte’s Jane Eyre and the gorgeous setting of a French castle. In this book, the orphaned Englishwoman Linda Martin becomes the governess to young, orphaned Phillipe, of Chateau Valmy in France. At first, the situation seems perfect, and young Phillipe is a shy but engaging pupil. His aunt and uncle, however, raise Linda’s concerns, and the ensuing cat-and-mouse game lays bare the ways ambition and injury can twist a heart. Mary Stewart won the prestigious Edgar Award for mystery in 1965 for This Rough Magic, but Nine Coaches Waiting is my favorite of hers.


Who am I?

I have been an avid reader of mysteries since I discovered Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden at age seven. I not only consume mysteries but I write about them: in 2002, my PhD dissertation discussed Victorian novels of suspense. Since then, I have published four Victorian mysteries with Random House, Harper Collins, and Crooked Lane. I am perpetually drawn to reading and writing books that trace the arc from confusion and chaos to clarity and order because I believe it is one of our deepest impulses as human beings—to understand our world. 


I wrote...

Down a Dark River

By Karen Odden,

Book cover of Down a Dark River

What is my book about?

Described as “a superbly written Victorian mystery, dark and atmospheric” by Mystery & Suspense Magazine, Down a Dark River, my fourth novel, is again set in 1870s London. 

Scotland Yard Inspector Michael Corravan is a former thief and bare-knuckles boxer raised in the Irish section of seedy Whitechapel (home of Jack the Ripper). Following a corruption scandal that destroyed public trust in Scotland Yard the previous year, Corravan is faced with the case of a beautiful young woman, daughter of a prominent judge, found murdered in a boat floating down the Thames. Her family has skeletons in the closet, which Corravan uncovers. But when a second young woman and then a third are found similarly murdered, he must discover the connection before the newspapers froth London into a panic. A case of injustice and revenge, the solution demands that Corravan delve into the darkest corners of his own heart.  

Mistress of Mellyn

By Victoria Holt,

Book cover of Mistress of Mellyn

A slight genre shift from the typical romantic suspense novel is the Gothic romance, and Victoria Holt (the pen name for Eleanor Hibbert) was one of the best. Like many of the stories published in this genre, there is a young woman, Martha Leigh, hired on as a governess to a troubled widow whose wife died under mysterious circumstances. Settings—as in all gothic novels—play a strong role in this story with its foreboding mansion and the untamed cliffs of Cornwall.


Who am I?

As an avid reader growing up, this list of books was influential in not only fostering my love of story, but also for inspiring me to become a writer. These books showed me what makes a page-turning story; from creating a rich setting to developing authentic characters with tension-filled dialogue, to heart-pounding twists and turns. In the end, the readers are taken on a suspenseful journey that will keep them up all night. 


I wrote...

The Catch

By Lisa Harris,

Book cover of The Catch

What is my book about?

After a harrowing attempt on a judge's life at the courthouse, Deputy US Marshals Madison James and Jonas Quinn are tasked with finding a missing woman and an endangered child in connection to the murder of the judge's wife. What seems like a fairly straightforward case becomes hopelessly tangled when the marshals discover that the woman they are searching for is not who they think she is.

Madison and Jonas are forced into a race to find the woman and the child before the men who want her dead discover her location. And in a final showdown that could cost her everything, Madison will come face-to-face with the person who murdered her husband.

The Looking Glass House

By Vanessa Tait,

Book cover of The Looking Glass House

This fictional interpretation of the creation of Alice’s Adventures is seen from the viewpoint of a constant, yet largely unremarked, fixture during these critical years: the Liddell family governess, Mary Prickett. The Oxford context of the time is convincingly depicted, and some of the burning issues of the day – Darwinism and Nonconformism, for instance – are interwoven with the more immediate tensions within the Liddell household, interpreted by an author who has more right than anyone to comment because Tait is the great-granddaughter of the real Alice herself. To sustain the pace she condenses the real events of 1857 to 1863 into a single fictionalised year, drawing on many well-known facts and suppositions – including Carroll’s rumoured amorous interest in Miss Prickett – and some lesser known details from her own family’s archives.

Who am I?

I am an Oxford local historian, and the only Oxford guide endorsed by the Lewis Carroll Society. I have helped shape Oxford’s annual Alice’s Day since the first one in 2007, and have participated in French, Dutch, Canadian, Brazilian and British TV and radio documentaries, most notably for BBC 2 and BBC Radio 4. My interest is mainly the many Oxford realities which are hidden away within the apparent fantasy of the ‘Alice’ books, an angle which has enabled me to lecture on this internationally famous topic as far away as Assam in India. Subsequently, my appreciation of Carroll’s versatility as a mathematician, photographer, inventor, diarist, and letter writer has grown steadily over the years.


I wrote...

Alice in Waterland: Lewis Carroll and the River Thames in Oxford

By Mark Davies,

Book cover of Alice in Waterland: Lewis Carroll and the River Thames in Oxford

What is my book about?

An appraisal of a world-famous Oxford story from a new angle: the fundamental influence of the River Thames in the creation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Lewis Carroll (the Christ Church don Charles Dodgson) entertained Alice Liddell and her sisters (the daughters of the Dean) with impromptu stories on rowing trips over seven summers, and it was on the river that the story of Alice had its birth.

Alice in Waterland sets the Oxford scene by combining excerpts from Carroll’s diaries and both Alice books with contemporary images, memoirs, and fiction on a literary journey of discovery along some ten miles of the picturesque river of which ‘the merry crew’ were all so fond. The book also sheds new light, and corrects some long-standing misconceptions, on the real places, people, and events which stimulated Carroll’s extraordinary imagination. "This is a splendid book." Philip Pullman

In The Viscount's Arms (Staunton Sisters Book 1)

By Allyson Jeleyne,

Book cover of In The Viscount's Arms (Staunton Sisters Book 1)

This book immediately stood out to me for a couple of reasons: the setting was vividly described, the characters engaged in simple everyday tasks that not only added depth but helped paint a picture of the era, and the author managed to make this story extremely sexy without explicit lovemaking scenes. I stopped writing explicit scenes years ago and have since aimed for a more sensual tone, which actually poses a much bigger challenge. So I’m always interested to see how other authors (of which I’ve encountered only a few), tackle such scenes in a more suggestive manner while still conveying the passion between the hero and heroine successfully. This book is an excellent example of how less truly can be more.


Who am I?

I’ve been writing historical romance novels and novellas for over ten years now and have read extensively from this genre during that time. I’m currently working on my 42nd book where a governess in her mid-thirties finds love with her wealthy boss. Writing romance may seem easy, but it actually requires a lot of research and poses the challenge of being dependent on the gradual emotional development of two protagonists whose journeys intertwine. As a former editor of mine once put it, there are a lot of gears in motion, all of which have to work smoothly together. The stories I’ve chosen to mention are excellent examples of this. I hope you’ll enjoy each one.


I wrote...

Mr. Dale and The Divorcée (The Brazen Beauties)

By Sophie Barnes,

Book cover of Mr. Dale and The Divorcée (The Brazen Beauties)

What is my book about?

Recently divorced and with her reputation in tatters, Wilhelmina Hewitt appears the harlot. But is there more to her story than meets the eye?

James Dale, a barrister whose world consists of absolutes, doesn’t think so. Until his son elopes with Wilhelmina’s daughter. Now, forced into a partnership for the purpose of finding their troublesome children – and into close proximity during their journey - James gets to know Wilhelmina better. And as he does so he must come to terms with two jarring facts: that he may have completely misjudged her and that his attraction toward her is rapidly turning to love. The only problem, of course, is her reputation. For how can a proper gentleman possibly build a future with England's most scandalous woman?

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