Jane Austen and an 18th century boarding school
Literary enthusiasts around the world celebrated the 245th birthday of Jane Austen yesterday. Best known for her masterpiece Pride and Prejudice, Austen was an English writer celebrated for her novels which vividly portray and critique the lifestyle of the eighteenth-century gentry. Did you know, though, that she went to a boarding school?
Between 1785 and 1786, Jane Austen and her sister enrolled at Reading Abbey Girls’ School in Berkshire, England. Austen enjoyed her time at school, describing it as a place where young students could accomplish academically while having fun along the way. Laster, she wrote of a ‘real, honest’ boarding school in her novel titled Emma based on her experience at Reading Abbey.
The School consisted of a medieval building adjoined by later extensions, within a few minuets’ walk from the town centre. The curriculum at the time was both academic and practical, consisting not only of grammar and spelling but also of domestic sciences for ladies such as needlework. French, probably the most popular foreign language for English students, was taught as well. The then schoolmaster, Mrs La Tournelle, had a passion for performance arts which probably explains why theatre and music made up a significant part of the curriculum.
Many other graduates of Reading Abbey Girls’ School likewise pursued a literary career, becoming influential women who helped shape early modern British culture and society.