In honor of the triumphant return of Sanditon this spring, GBH Drama put together an email series to accompany each episode. For those who missed the emails, we now present them here (lightly edited for formatting).

In episode 2, we got to enjoy an elegant dinner party (complete with some… disloyal entertainment), witnessed the return of one of my favorite shady characters from last season, and joined Charlotte for the first days at her brand new governess job. Given that I’m not a moody teen in the 1800s, I didn’t know a whole lot about actual governesses beyond what I’ve seen in “Jane Eyre” and The Sound of Music. How realistic is Sanditon’s portrayal of the governess lifestyle? And what’s so bad about being a spinster anyway? Fret not, gentle reader: I did the research for all of us.

First things first: why is everyone so eager for Charlotte and friends to get hitched when married women had so few rights? Well weirdly, it could be argued that some married women had it better than their single counterparts. In this era, when women married, they legally became one joint entity with their husband: they couldn’t own property in their own right, but they had a legal right to be kept at the level they married into. So marry a wealthy guy, and you can expect to live comfortably as long as he’s alive. And once widowed, women were required to have access to a chunk of the value of the family property, called a dower. From our modern point of view, this isn’t great, but it’s still better than an unmarried lady, who couldn’t count on any inherited income. The solution, if one chose not to marry? Live at home with your parents and hope your siblings take you in after your folks die, or get a job.

Today, we expect everyone to work outside of the home, but for Regency folks, that wasn’t the case at all, and the goal for anyone in spitting distance of a higher social class was to avoid employment wherever possible. For a woman like Charlotte, who comes from a farming family and not the gentry like the Parkers (folks who own land but don’t work it themselves), or nobility like the Denhams (folks who have titles and may or may not have the cash to go with it), it’s not necessarily a step down to work; after all, her parents and siblings work their land. But it’s still a big deal because she has the opportunity to enter a higher class, which is not only good for her, but could also help her younger siblings have access to better matches and more financial security down the road.

But Charlotte is too heartbroken to care about propriety (understandable!) so she lands the one job that’s even remotely suitable based on her position in society: governess. Young ladies needed to be educated, so there was a steady market for the position, but usually the job went to women who had no other options (Jane Eyre, anyone?). While it was an ok career, being a governess put women in an awkward position socially. Charlotte is our protagonist, so she’s got a robust circle. In real life, she’d be above the other servants in the Colbourne home and below the family: neither here nor there. Charlotte’s crappy seat at this week’s dinner party? Realistic. Due to her social standing, she’d struggle to meet men, if that were a goal (and for many women it was: getting married was the only way out of the job). She’d likely be mistrusted by the lady of the house, if there was one, and would have to move around a lot as her charges grew up.

All that being said, there absolutely were women who chose to remain unmarried for numerous reasons; queer women, women who only wanted to marry for love, and others who preferred a career (this might have been why Jane Austen herself never got hitched). Remaining unmarried became increasingly easy to do as the years progressed and the dubious protections of marriage started to fall apart as industrialization moved wealth away from estates (hard to rely on a dower if there's no property to fund one). All that being said, I don’t think I’m alone in hoping that Charlotte eventually does marry: she’s a romantic with a lot of love to give, and deserves a happily ever after! As we watch the rest of the season unfold, hopefully all of our leading ladies will find romantic happiness, if they choose to take it!

Looking for more of the history behind Sanditon season 2? Check out our other coverage on our Sanditon hub here.