TRADE IN INTELLECT
Jane Fairfax showed solicitude
to governesses, since their trade
was comparable, she claimed—no prude—
to prostitutes, though less well paid.
It wasn’t flesh but intellect
they sold, which makes them more
like lawyers, who’ve the same defect
though paid, of course, much more.
Inspired by Sir Frank Kermode’s review of The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Jane Austen, Vl. IX: Later Manuscripts and Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen conquered the Word, by Claire Harman, in the LRB, April 30, 2009. He reminds his readers of Jane Fairfax’s remarks to Mrs. Elton regarding the position of governess, claiming that their offices were “for the sale—not quite of human flesh—but of the human intellect.” Mrs. Elton professes to be shocked by the expression “human flesh,” which is widely thought to refer to the slave-trade, but which Kermode argues probably refers to prostitution.
© 2009 Gershon Hepner 5/8/09