The Joys and Disappointments of a German Governess in Imperial Brazil

  • by Ina von Binzer, Ina von Binzer

  • 262 pages, 6.00 x 9.00 , 23 b&w illustrations, 1 b&w map

  • Hardcover | 9780268201777 | February 2022

  • eBook (Web PDF) | 9780268201760 | February 2022

  • eBook (EPUB) | 9780268201791 | February 2022


This complex account by a German governess examines households, families, and slavery in Brazil, and bears witness to how “the world the slaveholders made” would soon collapse.

Ina von Binzer’s letters, published in German in 1887 and translated into English for this book, offer a rare view of three very different elite family households during the twilight years of Brazil’s Second Empire. Her woman’s gaze contrasts markedly with other contributions to the contemporary travel literature on Brazil that were nearly entirely written by men. Although von Binzer covers a multitude of topics—ranging from the management of households and plantations, the behavior of slaves and slaveowners, and the agricultural production of coffee and sugar to examinations of family relations, childrearing, culinary repertoires, and life on the street—the common theme running through her letters is the dawning perception that the world the slaveholders made could not long endure. She delves into the inevitable arrival of abolition as a national issue and a nascent movement—a destiny that her employers could no longer ignore. In recounting her conversations with them, she offers her own insights into their opinions and behaviors that make for a fascinating insider’s view of a world about to disappear. Von Binzer’s letters are prefaced by a valuable historical introduction that surveys the contexts of slavery’s slow demise after 1850 and offers new biographical research on von Binzer and the prominent families who employed her. A map of her travels together with dozens of photographs contemporary with her residence in Brazil provide visual documentation complementary to her letters.