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In Sense and Sensibility, how does Jane Austen depict the role of female education in...

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NP0928 | Student, Undergraduate | eNoter

Posted January 26, 2013 at 5:44 PM via web

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In Sense and Sensibility, how does Jane Austen depict the role of female education in England at the time of the novel's setting?

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lhc | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted January 26, 2013 at 9:21 PM (Answer #1)

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Women's education in the early 1800's in England (Sense and Sensibility was published in 1811) was a bit of a curious paradox.  Women in general did not receive formal education; the women depicted in Austen's novels, those of the "landed gentry" were normally expected to take perhaps a bit of instruction outside the home, maybe even spend a short time at boarding school, as Austen did, but in general, most education would take place at home in the household's library area under the instruction of a parent or governess.  Ironically, however, women were expected to acquire a fair amount of knowledge in music, singing, drawing, dancing, penmanship, foreign language, history, geography, mathematics, perhaps philosophy (which included scientific ideas) and do some occasional reading to better inform their possibilities for finding a suitable (that is to say, monied) husband, because women of this station did not work outside the home unless forced by declining financial circumstances to work as governesses as Jane Fairfax in Emma would have done but for Frank Churchill. 

The ultimate goal, then, was education with the purpose of fitting well into the strict customs, mores, and etiquette that would shape and inform a woman's quest for economic well-being in the future, through a marriage that would sometimes be described as a "good match" or a "favorable match" but very nearly never a "love match".   

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