In Jane Austen's time, there was no real way for young women of the "genteel" classes to strike out on their own or be independent. Professions, the universities, politics, etc. were not open to women (thus Elizabeth's opinion "that though this great lady [ Lady Catherine ] was not in the commission of the peace for the county, she was a most active magistrate in her own parish" is ironic, since of course no woman could be a justice of the peace or magistrate ). Few occupations were open to them -- and those few that were (such as being a governess , . a live-in teacher for the daughters or young children of a family ) were not highly respected, and did not generally pay well or have very good working conditions: Jane Austen wrote, in a letter of April 30th 1811 , about a governess hired by her brother Edward : "By this time I suppose she is hard at it, governing away -- poor creature! I pity her, tho' they are my neices"; and the patronizing Mrs. Elton in Emma is "astonished" that Emma's former governess is "so very lady-like ... quite the gentlewoman" (as opposed to being like a servant).