Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Fanny could read, work, or write, but she had been taught nothing more; and as her cousins found her ignorant of many things with which they had been long familiar, they thought her prodigiously stupid...

'Dear Mamma, only think, my cousin cannot put the map of Europe together - or my cousin cannot tell the principal rivers in Russia... I am sure I should have been ashamed of myself, if I had not known better long before I was so old as she is. How long ago it is, aunt, since we used to repeat the chronological order of the kings of England, with the dates of their accession, and most of the principal events of their reigns!"

"Yes," added the other, "and of the Roman emperors as low as Severus; besides a great deal of the heathen mythology, and all the metals, semi-metals, plantes, and distinguished philosophers."

Quote from Jane Austen, Mansfield Park. At the time, Fanny is 10, Julia is 12, and Maria 13. An inspiring piece, don't you think? Especially considering the level of ignorance prevalent today even among those who are supposed to be educated.


Lady Anne said...

Oh, don't get me started! Monday I was helping teach at a school near me (Harford County, Maryland, USA) and one of the "real" teachers had the WORST grammar. "Where's it at?" "Us teachers have a hard time." Us have a hard time? Pul-eeze. And I was trying to get one of the teachers to read a coin, which had a Latin inscription, and she drew a total blank.
I think the best English speakers are those who learned it as a second language.

Anonymous said...

Austen's books are generally satirical and make a parody of the society they depict. They are rarely positive depictions of 18th century life. Worth keeping in mind, imo.

Andrea said...

In principle I agree with you, and as a teacher I am certainly a proponent of education! However, I've also read Mansfield Park, so I'm afraid I can only read that passage with mingled contempt and pity for Maria and Julia.

I think it's a shame nobody taught the Bertram sisters that it's cruel to tease smaller children, and vulgar to look down on somebody else's lack of schooling (something over which Fanny had absolutely no control; her cousins were old enough to know that). Certainly Maria later demonstrates that knowing the principal rivers of Russia is not enough to keep you from acting the fool!

I think Austen makes her point well: when a person is as self-superior as the Bertram sisters, all the Approved Instruction in the world will not make that individual even half as agreeable as Fanny Price.

Avigayil said...

I'm not sure if this is what I'd seen a while back but these two links showcase the problem well.




Mrs. Anna T said...

I absolutely agree that Maria and Julia Bertram do not act very kindly in the book, nor very wisely. My point in quoting this particular passage was to show the striking difference between what was expected of children (even, let's make an allowance, *educated* children, which wasn't everyone) back then, and now. Most 13-year-olds I know don't even know what a semi-metal is.

Ariella said...

I'm one of the first to agree that educational standards have fallen a great deal. But to be fair, our kids do know a lot that Fanny and Julia do not. It's a different world today, and the stress is no longer on the kings of England (particularly out of England) or the Roman emperors for young children. They may learn some of that in high school level history. But that doesn't mean that they aren't learning anything in elementary school. Our own kids (in Jewish schools) have to master a great deal of knowledge of TaNaCh, halacha, and Hebrew at those ages. In secular subjects they learn learn grammar, spelling, vocabulary, math, science, and some history. Look at it this way, in Jane Austen's day there was less history to learn (the 19th and 20th Centuries are jammed with important facts and dates) so they could focus more on ancient history than students do today.

And, as other point out, we see that for all her snobbish accomplishment, Julia does not turn out all that well. Fanny does, but the suggestion in the novel is because there is something inherently good in her that makes her stick to what is right rather than rationalize what is wrong.

Raisin4Cookies said...

I suppose the idea of education depends on what your end goal is... in Austen's time, the more well-rounded a Lady's education was, the higher chance of procuring a husband (the only way of living independent of her parents).

My husband and I have chosen to home educate our children, and are doing it autonomously (unschooled) at that. I feel that our children are learning many valuable things, and that they will do well in life, learning what is important to their personal goals and aspirations.

While I am a great lover of history and geography, I am not a fan of memorising facts for the sake of it. That doesn't really speak of education at all, to me.