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Station To Station: The Learning Processes Of Wild Children In "Pride And Prejudice" And "Frankenstein"

1911 words - 8 pages

During the late 18th Century, Dr. Francois Itard wrote about his experiences of teaching awild child abandoned in the woods, later named Victor, in a classic text which was adapted into a film L'Enfant Sauvage by Francois Truffaut in 1970. Despite the slow, documentary style of the film, the subject matter is captivating--the growth and development of an almost animal-like child into a rational human being. Though not a literary pioneer in the strictest sense, Itard's classic text seems a likely candidate as a precursor to such novels as Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, novels which document the learning process of individuals who have had minimal direction from parents and authority figures. Both novels chart this learning process as a series of stations culminating in the loss of illusion through confrontation.In both Frankenstein and Pride and Prejudice, the protagonists may be defined as types of "wild children" who must learn on their own out of necessity. Thus, the first station of their learning is an autodidactic stage centered on individual observation. Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice, has no prominent guiding figure in her life. Mr Bennett, her father, is a laconic recluse who rarely intervenes in his daughters' affairs, preferring instead to hide in his library: "Such doings discomposed Mr. Bennett exceedingly. In his library he had been always sure of leisure and tranquility" (Austen 70). Her mother, "a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper" (7), prods her daughters towards marriage without really instructing them carefully in matters of etiquette and society. As a result, Elizabeth must rely on her own observations and her own logic, teaching herself about human nature and relationships: "Elizabeth listened in silence, but was not convinced; their behaviour at the assembly had not been calculated to please in general; and with more quickness of observation and less pliancy of temper than her sister, and with a judgment too unassailed by any attention to herself, she was very little disposed to approve them" (17). Austen characterizes Elizabeth as an independent and wild girl. Miss Bingley speaks of Elizabeth's "abominable sort of conceited independence" and "indifference to decorum" (36). When Bingley refers to Elizabeth as a "studier of character," Mrs. Bennett dismisses her daughter's powers of observation as only part of her "wild manner" (42). As Miss Bingley remarks, following Elizabeth's three mile walk over open country, Elizabeth looks "almost wild" (36). Nevertheless, the wildness of Elizabeth combines independence, critical thinking, and keen observation, and define this station of her life as a period of independent learning.In a like manner, the creature in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein has to survive on his own, being abandoned on the very night of his creation (Shelley 85). Involuntarily independent, the creature is also a kind of wild child, learning...

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