How were the Bertram children in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park educated in terms of both formal and moral education?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Typical of the education for that time period, Fanny's two girl cousins, Maria and Julia Bertram were educated at home by a governess and even tutors. We first learn that the girls were being taught by a governess and tutors when the narrator states that Lady Bertram didn't concern herself with her daughters' education as she knew "they were under the care of a governess, with proper masters" (Ch. 2). The phrase "proper masters" most likely refers to tutors; therefore, we know that they are not just being taught by a governess but by private tutors as well. We can also tell from reading Chapter 2 that the girls were taught music, French, geography, history, geology, philosophy, astronomy, and drawing. We especially learn of their education in music when we first meet them and see them attempt to entertain Fanny with a duet they had learned but "perceived her to be little struck" by their performance (Ch. 2). We learn of their studies in geography and history when later the narrator reports that Fanny's cousins were struck by how ignorant she was, other than knowing how to "read, work, and write" and constantly go to the drawing room to report the things they've just found Fanny doesn't know such as that Fanny "cannot put the map of Europe together," which is a geography lesson, or that Fanny doesn't know the "chronological order of the kings of England," which is a history lesson (Ch. 2). We can further glean that the girls have been educated in geology, astronomy, and philosophy when they state they can name "all the metals and semi-metals, planets, and distinguish philosophers" (Ch. 2).

The narrator does not say much about Tom's education; however, we can assume that also typical of the time period, the two Bertram boys, Tom and Edmund, were first educated at home by private tutors then sent to school. The second chapter also mentions that Edmund finished at Eton and started attending Oxford with the intention of becoming a clergyman. His studies at Eton would have been his private secondary education, or what we would call high school, while Oxford was obviously his university education.

However, the narrator also makes it very clear that while all four Bertram children were highly educated, none of them were educated in principles or morals. They all lacked an education in "self-knowledge, generosity and humility" (Ch. 2). The narrator blames their father for this lack of education as he was not a very affectionate man. Since he was reserved with his children, his children were reserved with him as well and, therefore, never displayed their character flaws before him. Edmund is the only one of the four children who possesses any moral decency. The others are vain, arrogant, conceited, and Tom is especially unprincipled and extravagant.

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