Pliable Pupils and Sufficient Self-directors
- Narratives of Female Education by Five British Women Writers,1778-1814
In Pliable Pupils and Sufficient Self-Directors, Barnita Bagchi examines writings that focus on female education and development by five representative British women writers who flourished between 1778 and 1814 - Lady Mary Hamilton, Clara Reeve, Elizabeth Hamilton, Mary Brunton, and the early Jane Austen. In a climate in which female education was a subject of anxiety in print culture and fiction a site of contestation, and in which women were emerging as major producers both of educational writing and heroine-centered, ostensibly didactic fiction, these writers produced fictions of female education that were pioneering Bildungsromans. Highly gendered, these fictions explore key tensions generated by the theme of education, including the dialectics between formal and experiential education, between the pliable pupil obedient to pedagogical authority-figures and the more self-sufficient autodidact, and between a desire for greater institutionalization of education and a recognition of the flexibility given by distancing from established structures.There is a congruence between the ambulatory, tension-ridden patterns of female education found in these fictions and the distinctive, miscellaneous fictional knowledge they represent - their creators grappled with the epistemological and ethical status of fiction which they connected with female experience. The writers of these fictions held conservative views on national politics, and categories such as gender, race and class are disturbingly aligned in many of their works. However, Bagchi argues, these women writers should not be straitjacketed as subjects of an emergent hegemonic bourgeois order. Also, the journeys towards emancipation as well as the starkly disturbing closing off of many such possibilities in the writings analyzed here remain reflected in the lives of many women today.
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