The Marriagable Mind

The children of Lord Grantham by D. Gardner, 1785.

Titania will never go to school. However, she is not to left in complete ignorance. Her parents have hired a middle-aged, widowed gentlewoman, Lady Frivolity, to be her governess. She will assist in the task of shaping Lady Titania into a docile, fashionable young woman ready to play by society's rules. During Titania's daily lessons with Lady F. she reads plays by Shakespeare and she learns to play the harpischord. Most importantly, she learns the social graces that are so important for a girl of her class: decorum at balls, what is considered fashionable, etc. Also, since it extremely important for girls of this time to have impeccable morals, Titania's governess teaches her to make morally sound choices. The goal is to make Titania a fashionable, socially savvy young woman who can have coherent conversations with potential suitors and other important aristocrats.

Making a good marriage was the most important if not only goal of upper-class girls in the 18th century. Thus, the focus of a young aristocratic woman's education was centered around making her as marriable as possible. These girls were often, as in Titania's case, educated by French or English governess or by waiting gentlewomen. These governesses often did have much education themselves and even if they had, a young woman who knew too much was considered unfeminine. A girl's education often included basic reading,and writing as well feminine activities such as needlework and dancing. Girls might also read Shakespearean plays and poetry. During earlier times, even these most basic academic skills were not commonly taught to upper-classes girls. However, when young aristocratic men went on the grand tour they met young French women who could have conversations about music, art, and literature. By comparison, English gentlewomen, seemed dull and uninteresting because they could only talk about balls and fashion. As a result, British mothers thought it wise to educate their daughters enough to compete with these French women in the marriage market.

However, some upper-class and middle-class girls went to boarding schools called seminaries, although many aristocrats looked down on these institutions. One obsever remarked that semenaries were simply places "where girls acquire nothing but the foibles, insipidities and delrium of their betters." 3 Just as at home with governesses, these girls were taught next to nothing at these semenaries. In addition, no training was required for the teachers who ran these seminaries. The women who ran and taught at these institutions were, with few exceptions, ridulously underqualified. Thus, these places were refuges for "the impecunious, the unfortunate, the ignorant adventuress [and] the lady's maid out at elbows." 4 A scene at a prominent London girls' seminary is here described."Mrs. Letitcia Tattle, who with no qualification save her reduced circumstances, instructed a crowd of voluble, young creatures in the fashionable phrases and compliments to use at teatables or on visiting days."5 At seperate shools, their male counterparts were taught Latin, Greek, algebra and history. These subjects were considered particularly unfeminine and instruction was confined to more ladylike pursuits. These included learning to play instruments and sewing. Singing was also included in the curriculum because many gentlemen liked to be sung to sleep following dinner. Also, great attention was paid to cultivating a young girl's moral character, wheater schooled at home or at the seminary. Upper-class girls were taught good Christian morals and their duties as a child and a wife.

There were, however, highly educated young women during the Eighteenth Century. These young ladies were usually upper-class and had progressive parents. However, these young women either had to hide their intellectual prowess or risk being outcasts in high society. This intellectual "elite was neither particularly wanted by society nor specailly trained. These outstanding women were the results of accidental circumstances or in exceptional cases of specific abilities."6

The Edgar Girls by A. Devis, 1762.

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