Debates on female education, constructing the middle ground in eighteenth century women's magazines and the novels of Fanny Burney and Jane Austen

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Awarding institution
  • University of Strathclyde
Date of award
  • 2010
Thesis identifier
  • T12631
Qualification Level
Qualification Name
Department, School or Faculty
  • This thesis investigates the various strands of the female education debate which emerge from eighteenth-century conduct books, women's magazines and the novels of Fanny Burney and Jane Austen. Across this body of work the main objective is to advise the middle-class woman about appropriate conduct in society. A surprising amount of consensus is shown to exist on this subject, even between conservative and radical writers. However, questions about gender equality placed conservative conduct-book writers and proto-feminists in ideologically opposed positions. In contrast, Burney, Austen and the authors of eighteenth-century magazines were unwilling either to demand gender equality or accept the inherent inferiority of the female sex. Taking a moderate stance in the female education debate, they either avoid extreme views or negotiate between them, often reaching contradictory conclusions. It will be argued, that the wide range of material and variety of opinions incorporated within these works, particularly the women's magazines, actively enabled the construction of a middle ground. This position was by no means stable and the parameters of what was considered acceptable and respectable for women were subject to continual modification. Central to the characterisation of the magazines as moderate works is the potential, built into the structure and integral to the content of these texts, for individual readers to resist meaning or interpret it in different ways. The novels portray the consequences of education through the integral detail of their heroines' lives. These works assume that domestic duties should be a priority for women, but they show that the education available to the female sex was inadequate for its purposes. Moderate writers are shown to adapt a variety of strategies in order to question the aims and objectives of female education without challenging the status quo.
Resource Type
Date Created
  • 2010
Former identifier
  • 815731