Companions & Whitefield Hall

Whitefield Hall has been substantially rewritten and expanded, and will be out in eBook format in the next 24-72 hours on all major venues.  In anticipation of its release, here is a post about companions in the Victorian era.

My heroine in Whitefield Hall is a middle-class woman by the name of Elizabeth Dutton. Elizabeth has chosen a career as a companion, rather than seeking a husband and having children. Elizabeth Dutton is also the name of my third great grandmother who was born in Warrington, England, the setting of Whitefield Hall.  Of course, the book is dedicated to her memory.

As I researched the lifestyle of companions in the Victorian era, I discovered some fascinating reports. In addition, I discovered photographs of advertisements placed in the London paper (click link to read). Here is one that I tweaked for the book:

Wanted – A respectable, young woman as a companion to an elderly lady. Must possess satisfactory testimonials from prior employment. The applicant should be competent, with a solid English education, social graces, and possess the ability to speak French fluently. Her accomplishments should include drawing, ornamental needlework, dancing, singing, and possess skill playing the harp or pianoforte. Apply between the hours of ten o’clock in the morning and two o’clock in the afternoon.

Frankly, after reading the requirements, I doubt many of us “ladies” of the twenty-first century could qualify.

Who were the women that chose to be companions? They came from upper and middle-class families, were well-bred, but had no other means of support. In Elizabeth’s case, her parents are dead, her brother inherited everything, and she is left without finances. Being a companion is her means of survival.

Positions as companions offered housing, meals, and if they were fortunate, a small salary. In their roles, they were not looked upon as servants. Instead, they were trained to provide company and conversation. Companions would accompany their employer to social events and help to entertain guests. In some instances, they might be used as chaperones. No doubt all of their skills outlined above would be put to good use, as well answering to her employer’s every whim.

I would image that taking a position as a companion had to be risky business. If you were hired into a home with a congenial employer, you would be fortunate.  However, if you were hired into a household with a demanding and unpleasant mistress, life might not be so peachy.

What kind of mistress does Elizabeth have? Well, you’ll have to read Whitefield Hall to find out! She’s described as a poisonous spider.