Pinto, Sonja

Project title: Putting Down the Pen: Education Beyond the Classroom in Victorian Fiction

Department: English

Faculty supervisor: Dr. Mary Elizabeth Leighton

"Nineteenth-century England implemented many educational reforms, from acts that broadened university accessibility to non-Anglicans (and, eventually, to women) to acts that mandated primary education for children under 12. Many Victorian novelists engaged with educational reforms within their writing, perhaps most famously in Charles Dickens’s Hard Times (1854) and Thomas Hughes’s Tom Brown’s Schooldays (1857). Despite this shift towards educational reform within academic institutions, many Victorian novels were also preoccupied with the ways in which characters educated themselves through non-academic means. While many scholars have studied representations of academic education in fiction, this focus rarely addresses the ways in which texts advocate for non-academic learning. I am interested in how texts represent education beyond these academic institutions. Thus, my research will focus on the ways in which Victorian fiction promoted education outside the classroom, in such activities as domestic handicrafts and art, rather than within traditional classrooms that prioritized the classics and rote learning.

My project will consider how Victorian fiction represents characters’ self-education beyond formal schooling by analysing such Victorian texts as Charlotte Brontë’s Villette (1853), George Eliot’s Romola (1862), George Gissing’s The Odd Women (1893), and Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure (1894). These texts demonstrate an interest in non-traditional education, from Lucy Snowe’s art critiques to Jude Fawley’s autodidacticism. By examining these novels, I hope to understand how Victorian fiction encouraged educational reform through learning that takes place outside conventional avenues of education."