Education in the novels of Anne and Charlotte Brontë
Shave, Anne Elise
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
Charlotte and Anne Bronte were both educators and it is not surprising that education plays a prominent part in their fiction. It is more surprising that students and educators, who presumably share an interest in the processes and purposes of education, have not attempted, in previous studies, to provide a comprehensive coverage of the Brontes' approach to educational issues or to examine the function of teaching and learning interactions within their novels. My thesis traverses this relatively unexplored territory. My argument is divided into six parts. First, I outline some of the educational issues of particular significance at the time the Bronte sisters were writing, including school conditions, content of curricula for girls and boys, and "the governess problem". In chapter two I consider the authors' responses to these contemporary issues and raise points of contrast between Anne and Charlotte's approaches to similar subjects. Anne's moral emphasis and desire to affect change is compared with her sister's ambiguous and often contradictory attitudes towards social issues. Next, the close connection between education and power (and characters' exploitation of this feature of education) is explored from several perspectives. I comment on the imbalance of power between the sexes that educational differences contributed to in early-Victorian society and demonstrate that those most desirous of educational power in the Brontes' work are often the most oppressed. Chapters four and five examine the ways in which education contributes to the central heterosexual relationships in the novels, and focus most closely on Charlotte's preoccupation with relationships between masters and pupils. Finally I compare Anne and Charlotte's treatment of education in order to make some observations about their attitudes towards writing itself. I argue that the sisters' understandings of "truth" in fiction, the recurring conflict between reason and emotion in Charlotte's novels, and Anne's Christian world-view, contribute to the differing approaches to education - and, indeed, a vast number of other issues - within their fiction.