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In What Way Does Gaskell Argue The Necessity Of Education For Girls And Women In Wives And Daughters?

2868 words - 11 pages

Wives and Daughters proved to be something of a departure for Gaskell. In many of her previous novels she had undertaken an examination of a social question such as the class disputes in Mary Barton or North and South, or the plight of a fallen woman and her illegitimate child in Ruth. From her earliest works her attention was always focused on the social and emotional problems of her women characters but in Wives and Daughters she writes a novel that is both a collection of brilliant character sketches which together form a novel about the joys and sorrows of the people of Hollingford, and the story of a young girl's growth and change, but it is also so much more than this, she also examines the theme of education for women.This was a particularly pertinent issue at the time of writing in the 1860's. The 1850's and 60's had seen real moves pressing for the admission of women into higher education. Higher education was extremely limited, with a mere five universities being established, none of which admitted women. The problem with this was that Britain was largely a patriarchal society and allowing women this level of education was likely to upset the status quo and that armed with this kind of knowledge it was perceived that women might start to become empowered.However the change had already started further down the social ladder, indeed in David Wardle's book 'English Popular Education 1780-1970' he states that,"The university extension movement of the 1870's and 1880's received much of its impetus from the demand by women for an education of genuine academic content and many of the men and women who were concerned in founding secondary schools and colleges for women who were also active in the emancipation movement"(1)By now many middle class girls were receiving an education, however the education tended to concentrate on how to be accomplished wives and hostesses.Gaskell, a Unitarian, had herself been educated at a boarding school in Warwickshire. The school, which taught modern subjects in a comfortable, domestic atmosphere, attracted the daughters of a number of Unitarian families. As Unitarians they did not believe that wives should be submissive to their husbands and Elizabeth certainly wasn't. Her husband, William encouraged his wife to develop her own talents and to assert herself in promoting them. In 'Wives and Daughters' Gaskell portrays a changing society, in which achievement will soon count for more than social position which confirms her belief that women should be educated to the full extent of their abilityThis explains Gaskell's satirical portrayal of Gibson, who although a well educated doctor is reluctant to educate his daughter in anything but the basics of a rudimentary education. Miss Eyre, Molly's governess, had the following instructions from Gibson, "Don't teach Molly too much; she must sew, and read, and do her sums; but I'm not sure that writing is necessary. Many a good woman gets married with only a cross...

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