Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair
For England, the nineteenth century was a time of transformation. The landscape of England changed rapidly as industrialization and urbanization took hold of the nation. The population boomed, and children overpopulated cities and towns. With so many youngsters running about, mass education became a major public concern. By the midnineteenth century, the sad state of the nation’s public education system had been exposed by the Newcastle Committee, and reforms were beginning to take place.
In particular, the education available for females came under scrutiny. Many lower class girls left school unable to read, write, or perform basic mathematics, while middle and upper class girls were merely trained to be social hostesses, learning accomplishments to please company and showing that their families were able to afford an expensive private institution. Advocates for female education argued that the existing education was poorly structured, if structured at all, and shallow in its goals.
As this paper intends to show, children’s literature, which was emerging as a mass market during the Victorian era, played a role in shaping the educational system of England during the nineteenth-century, serving as a subtle method of persuasion, designed to convince parents and children of the importance of a substantial education for females. For instance, as debates about female education were being considered, Lewis Carroll published Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865). The story of Alice and her adventures down the rabbit-hole has delighted many generations of children and adults alike. Scholars have made numerous attempts to unravel the “true meaning” behind Carroll’s nonsense tale, but very few have considered the story within the context of the Victorian debate on female education. Indeed, as shown in this paper, Carroll’s Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its equally successful sequel, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1872), point out many of the flaws in the existing education available for young girls during the mid-Victorian era and offer a new type of education for girls, one developed through real-life experiences and playful interactions.
This paper also explores two Victorian female writers’ reimaginings of the Alices: Christina Rossetti’s Speaking Likenesses (1874) and Augusta Webster’s Daffodil and the Croaxaxicans: A Romance o f History (1884). These women use the Alice tales as a springboard to argue for their own notions of effective female education. Like Carroll’s tales, their nonsense-style fantasies feature female protagonists who find themselves thrust into unfamiliar worlds, and the experiences of these child heroines show the effect of education on young women. While Rossetti’s Speaking Likenesses (1874) pushes for a moral education for girls, Webster’s Daffodil and the Croaxicans: A Romance o f History (1884) argues for an education that allows girls creative freedom, intellectually rigorous coursework, and the possibility of going on to higher education.
Papaioannou, Nicole, "‘But they would not teach her to play’ : Child Heroines, Fantasy, and the Victorian Debate on Female Education" (2010). Theses, Dissertations and Culminating Projects. 941.