Dickens & Women’s Education

In “Chapter 9 – London Recreations” Dickens pauses to comment causticly on “the course female education has taken of late days” saying:

Whether the course female education has taken of late days – whether the pursuit of giddy frivolities, and empty nothings, has tended to unfit women for that quiet domestic life, in which they show far more beautifully than in the most crowded assembly, is a question we should feel little gratification in discussing: we hope not.”

I think our reading thus far has clued us in to Dickens’ feelings that education in general, but in this case women’s education in particular, was lacking; that education ill-prepared youth of both sexes for their future. This idea will become more apparent as we proceed with our reading, most notably in Nicholas Nickleby and Hard Times but in several (all?) other novels as well. Dickens believed children should be taught useful, practical skills – for girls this meant domestic skills. As Michael Slater puts it:

Woman being clearly destined by God and Nature for a domestic role,, the primary aim of her education should not be academic . . . still less the cultivation of elegant ‘accomplishments’ such as music or sketching, but should focus on training her to become a wise and efficient housekeeper and manager of servants. (323-324, Slater, M. (2017). Dickens and Women. EER Edward Everett Root Publishers.)


Here are the relevant pages from Prof. Slater’s wonderful book related to Dickens’ views on women’s education.

I hope this will be useful going forward as we read. The Victorian notion of “a woman’s place” is quite different from our current views. I think it is important to keep in mind where Dickens was coming from, so to speak; to not get distracted by his “outdated” views but to appreciate the point he was trying to make to his contemporary readers from their point of understanding. And, in this particular instance, if we remove the reference to “women” we can extrapolate and understand Dickens to be saying that a child’s education should prepare them to be contributing members of society rather than filling their heads with needless, useless information that prepares them for nothing.

2 Comments

  1. Chris, thank you for this marvelous, thought-provoking post, so enriching to what we’ve been talking about! I’m pretty much out of the house all afternoon, but look forward to jumping in on the conversation!!

    Liked by 1 person

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