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  • Jane Austen, Unschooling Advocate?

    Filed at 10:59 am under by dcobranchi

    Of a piece with my recently stated opinion that we should help the media realize we’re no longer unusual enough to write about has been the desire to prove how relentlessly normal home education used to be.

    To that end, I’ve been collecting snippets from 19th-century literature that mention education. I’m not yet done with the little series I want to make out of it, but the following was just too good not to share right away.

    In Pride and Prejudice, during Elizabeth’s first evening in the company of the haughty Lady Catherine de Bourgh, talk falls to the education of the Bennet girls. Lady Catherine speaks first here (and, as readers of the book know, everywhere else as well):

    “No governess! How was that possible? Five daughters brought
    up at home without a governess! I never heard of such a thing.
    Your mother must have been quite a slave to your education.”

    Elizabeth could hardly help smiling as she assured her that had
    not been the case.

    “Then, who taught you? who attended to you? Without a governess, you must have been neglected.”

    “Compared with some families, I believe we were; but such of us
    as wished to learn never wanted the means. We were always
    encouraged to read, and had all the masters that were necessary. Those who chose to be idle, certainly might.”

    Of course, the book is hardly a blanket recommendation of laissez-faire learning. The two elder Bennet girls, modest, self-assured, and quick of wit, clearly profited by their upbringing, but the younger ones are (in the words of their father) “a couple of — or I may say, three — very silly sisters.”

    4 Responses to “Jane Austen, Unschooling Advocate?”

    Comment by
    August 27th, 2004
    at 1:09 pm

    There’s also a description of Regency homeschooling at the beginning of =Northanger Abbey=,where the heroine’s education is described in a couple pages.

    As well, in =Sense and Sensibility=, there’s a bit where Mrs. Dashwood talks about how she and Margaret will be going over the French lessons. There’s also a distinction made between private tutoring and public schools (boarding schools) for boys in the contrast between the Ferrars brothers.

    Comment by
    August 27th, 2004
    at 1:12 pm

    For the antischool Victorian, there’s Charles Dickens. The horrid boarding school in =Nicholas Nickleby=, the lifeless school in =Hard Times=, a stark contrast in =David Copperfield= (abusive school vs actual place of learning.)

    There’s an important point about the differing private schools in =Our Mutual Friend=: Charley Hexam goes to a substandard school for poor boys that his sister pays for, and he’s discovered by a schoolmaster from a “decent” school (read: middleclass) who gets him a place there, and Charley makes his way as an outstanding student, becoming teacher in turn. An interesting mode of instruction is described in =Dombey and Son=. I would try to remember the school in =Oliver Twist=, but I hated that novel and, if I remember correctly, Oliver is waylaid before he manages to get to the school.

    Schools of all sorts seem to crop up in most Dickens novels. An amusing episode at a girls boarding school occurs in =Pickwick Papers=.
    There’s a dancing school in =Bleak House=. Miss Pinch is an abused governess in =Martin Chuzzlewit= and Pecksniff runs a fraudulent apprentice “school” in architecture.

    Comment by
    August 27th, 2004
    at 1:13 pm

    Note: evidently the phrase “antischool”, where there’s a hyphen between “anti” and “school” is verboten in the code that vets comments.

    You have been warned.

    It took me quite a while to figure out which bit offended the software.

    Comment by
    August 27th, 2004
    at 7:31 pm

    Let’s not forget the dreadful school in Jane Eyre. Although it got better when the bad guy died and the trustees got a look at what had been going on.