Nurses, nannies, governesses, tutors, and companions: a taxonomy
The childcare arrangements of the nineteenth-century British upper crust have spawned a dynasty of classic literary characters. Can you tell your nursemaids from your nannies, your tutors from your governesses?
Nurse was in charge of the nursery regime - the diapers, the baths, and, especially in the case of the wet nurse, the nourishment. Polly Toodle of Dickens's Dombey and Son is a classic wet nurse, standing in place of a mother and passing on a bit of lower-class affection along with her milk. Nursemaids were nurse's underlings and probably got the nastiest jobs.
The word "nanny" is a close synonym of "nurse", and may derive from a babytalk diminutive. Nannies are the snuggly presences in nursery lore, the workhorses of childcare who take children on outings, supervise their play, keep their pinafores tidy, and refine their table manners. They are elevated servants - even Mary Poppins, the...