Thomas Rowlandson, "Dr. Syntax Visits a
Boarding School for Young Ladies," 1821.
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
That being said, I haven't written a word since Thursday, when we attended a parent's night at my daughter's school. This was not routine. It was held in response to an ongoing situation in her class. Unfortunately, I did not hear what I needed to from the principal, who pretty much gave the parents the run around. It was very disappointing, and it raised the stakes for this week, when my daughter is visiting a private bilingual school for three days. It is the only school we've found that both fits our requirements and can take her in January. I so hope she likes it, and that they like her.
So this past weekend was totally focused on shoring up the family and doing my best to encourage good spirits in this week ahead. This amidst rising COVID cases (again) and my annual frantic attempt to recreate Thanksgiving abroad. I will be very well satisfied with a completed rough draft, thank you.
Disease and school: when Austen springs to mind upon the flimsiest of excuses, this one screams to be addressed. The good news is that, no matter how acute my daughter's current situation may feel, it is not fatal. Jane Austen's time at school did prove fatal to her aunt, however, which does a great deal to put my current concerns into perspective.
Mrs. Goddard was the mistress of a School—not of a seminary, or an establishment, or any thing which professed, in long sentences of refined nonsense, to combine liberal acquirements with elegant morality, upon new principles and new systems—and where young ladies for enormous pay might be screwed out of health and into vanity—but a real, honest, old-fashioned Boarding-school, where a reasonable quantity of accomplishments were sold at a reasonable price, and where girls might be sent to be out of the way, and scramble themselves into a little education, without any danger of coming back prodigies. - Emma, Chapter Three
Austen went to two different school in her formative years. The first, Mrs. Crawley's school in Oxford, she was sent to in 1782, when only seven years old. Maybe she refused to be parted from Cassandra, also on her way as a companion to their cousin, Jane Cooper, maybe not. This was the explanation Mrs. Austen used to employ when questioned on the subject.
While the three girls attended, the location of the school was relocated to Southampton, due to a measles outbreak in Oxford. But bad luck followed them and a "putrid fever" soon swept through the school. Perhaps this was diphtheria. Jane Cooper wrote home (no communication from Mrs. Crawley 😡), and Mrs. Cooper and Mrs. Austen went to Southampton to rescue their girls. The girls all recovered, but Mrs. Cooper was dead from the infection within the year.
Side note: we now routinely provide diphtheria vaccinations to babies. Isn't that wonderful?
This experience didn't totally sour the Austens on female education, and both girls were sent to another school for a year or so, largely remembered by history for its fraudulent French mistress. This experience proved less dramatic, but the adult Austen expressed a negative opinion of girl's schools and the superficiality of the education obtained at such institutions. Proper education, she repeatedly implies, is gained through extensive reading.
I love it when history puts my own sorry woes into such clear and stark contrast. My daughter will undoubtedly receive an education, a right only recently guaranteed to children, let alone girls, who are still denied this opportunity in too many parts of the world. This is a great blessing, and I never want to take it for granted. My daughter is unlikely to contract a deathly disease while at school, though certainly more likely than she was a few years ago. This is also (mostly) a blessing. Thank goodness for modern medicine! And on that note, I'm going to try and write this last scene. It just so happens to begin in a Regency Era girl's school (it was recommended by Mr. Darcy, so you know it is one of the better examples of this sort of establishment). How perfectly synchronistic! Til next week ...