In a Gentleman-Like Manner

By Ted Bushman (appearing as Fitzwilliam Darcy in BYU’s production of Pride and Prejudice)

Mr. Darcy’s haughtiness can seem not only bizarre but unnecessarily rude until one looks a little at the climate from which he emerged.

A gentleman of Georgian England.

A gentleman of Georgian England.

Social class was a huge factor in Regency era life, and birth was decisive in determining one’s social standing. For some, especially the eldest son and heir, their standing was established with an inherited title and fortune.  For others, especially younger sons, inheritance of land or fortune and occupation played a primary role. For most women, their place in society was determined by the status of the man they married.

The whole society was divided into various classes. The individuals of the different classes were associated with different types of professions and they got different ranges of salaries.

Upper class/aristocracy: The upper class was composed of the members of the royal family, the spiritual lords, high profile officers of the state and all members above the degree of a baronet. Titled peers in all their various forms occupied the top of the social ladder.

Second class: The members of the second class included baronets, country gentlemen, knights and others with high incomes.

These were the landed gentry. Though definitely part of the upper class, they were definitely lower ranked than the peers even though their income might exceed that of peers who might be saddled with debt or other financial difficulties.

The landed gentry was distinct from the middle class because they were landowners who might live entirely off rental income. Oftentimes the estate lands surrounding a country house amounted to a large agrarian business consisting of a home farm and numerous rented (tenanted) farms and cottages. Revenues from agricultural enterprises and rents were the primary source of gentleman’s income.

Like the peers, the landed gentry was divided into various ranks, positioning some firmly above others. Within the landed gentry were:

Baronet. A position created by King James in 1611, giving the person a hereditary title that passed to the eldest son, and the right to be addressed as “Sir” but not ranked as a peer, therefore could not sit in the House of Lords.

A young man in uniform, circa 1800.

A young man in uniform, circa 1800. Many sons in the second class purchased commissions in the military, which afforded them income and honor.

Knight. Originally a military honor, it was increasingly used as a reward for service to the Crown. An address (formal speech of respect or thanks) to the monarch was a frequent means of attaining the honor of knighthood. This was not a hereditary title.

Esquire/squire. Esquire was an informal title, often given to gentlemen, especially prominent landowners, who had no other title. Originally a title related to the battlefield, it included a squire or person aspiring to knighthood, an attendant on a knight. Later it was an honor that could be conferred by the Crown and included certain offices such as Justice of the Peace. A squire was often the principle landowner in a district.

Gentlemen. This started as a separate title with the statute of Additions of 1413. It is used generally for a man of high birth or rank, good social standing, and wealth, especially the inherited kind.  Mr. Darcy would fit into this category—as landed gentry, he would have no outside career other than the managing of his estate.

Third class: The third class consisted of doctors, bankers, clergyman and various large scale manufacturers and merchants.

Fourth class: This class included merchants and manufacturers of second class, lawyers, teachers, ship owners, artists, builders and shopkeepers.

Fifth class: The fifth class included shopkeepers, innkeepers, publicans and persons of miscellaneous occupations.

Sixth class: This class included craftsmen, working mechanics and the agricultural laborers.

Seventh class: The seventh class included paupers, vagrants and gypsies.

Army and Navy: This class of the Regency period social hierarchy consisted of commissioned officers, non-commissioned officers, soldiers, seamen, marines and pensioners.

Mr. Darcy and all gentlemen had particular demands placed on them socially as well as economically. As one lecture given during this period puts it:

… it is almost a definition of a gentleman to say that he is one who never inflicts pain.

The true gentleman…carefully avoids whatever may cause a jar or a jolt in the minds of those with whom he is cast — all clashing of opinion, or collision of feeling, all restraint, or suspicion, or gloom, or resentment; his great concern being to make everyone at his ease and at home.

A "Gentleman" in appearance, action, and attitude.

A “Gentleman” in appearance, action, and attitude.

He has his eyes on all his company; he is tender towards the bashful, gentle towards the distant, and merciful towards the absurd; he can recollect to whom he is speaking; he guards against unseasonable allusions, or topics which may irritate; he is seldom prominent in conversation, and never wearisome. He makes light of favors while he does them, and seems to be receiving when he is conferring.

He never speaks of himself except when compelled, never defends himself by a mere retort; he has no ears for slander or gossip, is scrupulous in imputing motives to those who interfere with him, and interprets everything for the best. He is never mean or little in his disputes, never takes unfair advantage, never mistakes personalities or sharp saying for arguments, or insinuates evil which he dare not say out.

From a long-sighted prudence, he observes the maxim of the ancient sage, that we should ever conduct ourselves towards our enemy as if he were one day to be our friend. He has too much good sense to be affronted at insults, he is too well employed to remember injuries, and too indolent to bear malice. He is patient, forbearing, and resigned, on philosophical principles; he submits to pain, because it is inevitable, to bereavement, because it is irreparable, and to death, because it is his destiny.

It’s interesting to see how Mr. Darcy’s behavior compares to this description.  But I won’t come to conclusions for you.  You’ll have to think critically.

Works Cited

“”The Definition of a Gentleman”.” Definition of a Gentleman. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Feb. 2014. <;.

“Gentlemen, Gentry and Regency Era Social Class.” Random Bits of Fascination. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Feb. 2014. <;.

“Regency Period Social Hierarchy.” Hierarchy. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Feb. 2014. <;.

“The Gentleman.” The Gentleman. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Feb. 2014. <;.

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Jane Austen: A Biography

By Karli Hall (appearing as Elizabeth Bennet in BYU’s Pride and Prejudice)

Jane Austen, 1775-1817

Jane Austen, 1775-1817

Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775, at Steventon Rectory in Hampshire, the seventh child of a country clergyman and his wife, George and Cassandra Austen, both members of gentry families. After a few months at home, her mother placed Jane with Elizabeth Littlewood, a woman living nearby, who nursed and raised her for a year or eighteen months. She was primarily educated at home, benefiting from her father’s extensive library and the schoolroom atmosphere created by Mr. Austen’s live-in pupils. Her closest friend was her only sister, Cassandra, almost three years her senior. In 1783, according to family tradition, Jane and Cassandra were sent to Oxford to be educated by Mrs. Ann Cawley and they moved with her to Southampton later in the year. Both girls caught typhus and Jane nearly died. Austen was subsequently educated at home, until leaving for boarding school with her sister Cassandra early in 1785. The school curriculum probably included some French, spelling, needlework, dancing and music and, perhaps, drama. By December 1786, Jane and Cassandra had returned home because the Austens could not afford to send both of their daughters to school.

Austen acquired the remainder of her education by reading books, guided by her father and her brothers James and Henry. George Austen apparently gave his daughters unfettered access to his large and varied library, was tolerant of Austen’s sometimes risqué experiments in writing, and provided both sisters with expensive paper and other materials for their writing and drawing. According to Park Honan, a biographer of Austen, life in the Austen home was lived in “an open, amused, easy intellectual atmosphere” where the ideas of those with whom the Austens might disagree politically or socially were considered and discussed. After returning from school in 1786, Austen “never again lived anywhere beyond the bounds of her immediate family environment”.

Though Austen lived a quiet life, she had unusual access to the greater world, primarily through her brothers.  Francis (Frank) and Charles, officers in the Royal Navy, served on ships around the world and saw action in the Napoleonic Wars. Henry, who eventually became a clergyman like his father and his brother James, was an officer in the militia and later a banker.  Austen visited Henry in London, where she attended the theater, art exhibitions, and social events and also corrected proofs of her novels.  Her brother Edward was adopted by wealthy cousins, the Knights, becoming their heir and later taking their name.  On extended visits to Godmersham, Edward’s estate in Kent, Austen and her sister took part in the privileged life of the landed gentry, which is reflected in all her fiction.

Godmersham Park, the estate of Jane Austen's brother, Edward Austen-Knight.

Godmersham Park, the estate of Jane Austen’s brother, Edward Austen-Knight.

As a child Austen began writing comic stories, now referred to as the Juvenilia.  Her first mature work, composed when she was about 19, was a novella, Lady Susan, written in epistolary form (as a series of letters).  This early fiction was preserved by her family but was not published until long after her death.

As Austen grew into adulthood, she continued to live at her parents’ home, carrying out those activities normal for women of her age and social standing: she practiced the pianoforte, assisted her sister and mother with supervising servants, and attended female relatives during childbirth and older relatives on their deathbeds. She sent short pieces of writing to her newborn nieces Fanny Catherine and Jane Anna Elizabeth. Austen was particularly proud of her accomplishments as a seamstress. She also attended church regularly, socialized frequently with friends and neighbors, and read novels — often of her own composition — aloud with her family in the evenings. Socializing with the neighbors often meant dancing, either impromptu in someone’s home after supper or at the balls held regularly at the assembly rooms in the town hall. Her brother Henry later said that “Jane was fond of dancing, and excelled in it”.

After finishing Lady Susan, Austen attempted her first full-length novel — “Elinor and Marianne.” Her sister Cassandra later remembered that it was read to the family ‘before 1796’ and was told through a series of letters. Without surviving original manuscripts, there is no way to know how much of the original draft survived in the novel published in 1811 as Sense and Sensibility. Austen began work on a second novel, “First Impressions,” in 1796. She completed the initial draft in August 1797 when she was only 21 (it later became Pride and Prejudice); as with all of her novels, Austen read the work aloud to her family as she was working on it and it became an “established favorite”. Her father sent a letter offering the manuscript of “First Impressions” to a publisher soon after it was finished in 1797, but his offer was rejected by return post.

Jane's writing table, displayed at Chawton Cottage today.

Jane’s writing table, displayed at Chawton Cottage today.

During the middle of 1798, after finishing revisions of Elinor and Marianne, Austen began writing a third novel with the working title Susan — later Northanger Abbey — a satire on the popular Gothic novel. Austen completed her work about a year later. In early 1803, Henry Austen offered Susan to Benjamin Crosby, a London publisher, who paid £10 for the copyright. Crosby promised early publication and went so far as to advertise the book publicly as being “in the press”, but did nothing more. The manuscript remained in Crosby’s hands, unpublished, until Austen repurchased the copyright from him in 1816.

When Austen was 25 years old, her father retired, and she and Cassandra moved with their parents to Bath, residing first at 4 Sydney Place.  During the five years she lived in Bath (1801-1806), Austen began one novel, The Watsons, which she never completed.

In December 1802, Austen received her only known proposal of marriage. She and her sister visited Alethea and Catherine Bigg, old friends who lived near Basingstoke. Their younger brother, Harris Bigg-Wither, had recently finished his education at Oxford and was also at home. Bigg-Wither proposed and Austen accepted. As described by Caroline Austen, Jane’s niece, and Reginald Bigg-Wither, a descendant, Harris was not attractive — he was a large, plain-looking man who spoke little, stuttered when he did speak, was aggressive in conversation, and almost completely tactless. However, Austen had known him since both were young and the marriage offered many practical advantages to Austen and her family. He was the heir to extensive family estates located in the area where the sisters had grown up. With these resources, Austen could provide her parents a comfortable old age, give Cassandra a permanent home and, perhaps, assist her brothers in their careers. By the next morning, Austen realized she had made a mistake and withdrew her acceptance. No contemporary letters or diaries describe how Austen felt about this proposal.

In 1814, Austen wrote a letter to her niece, Fanny Knight, who had asked for advice about a serious relationship, telling her that “having written so much on one side of the question, I shall now turn around & entreat you not to commit yourself farther, & not to think of accepting him unless you really do like him. Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without Affection”.

Chawton Cottage, where Jane Austen lived as an adult with her mother and sister Cassandra.

Chawton Cottage, where Jane Austen lived as an adult with her mother and sister Cassandra.

In 1809 Edward provided the women a comfortable cottage in the village of Chawton, near his Hampshire manor house.  This was the beginning of Austen’s most productive period.  In 1811, at the age of 35, Austen published Sense and Sensibility, which identified the author as “a Lady.” Pride and Prejudice followed in 1813, Mansfield Park in 1814, and Emma in 1815.  The title page of each book referred to one or two of Austen’s earlier novels—capitalizing on her growing reputation—but did not provide her name.

Austen began writing the novel that would be called Persuasion in 1815 and finished it the following year, by which time, however, her health was beginning to fail.  The probable cause of her illness was Addison’s Disease.  In 1816, Henry Austen repurchased the rights to “Susan,” which Austen revised and renamed “Catherine.” During a brief period of strength early in 1817, Austen began the fragment later called Sanditon, but by March she was too ill to work.  On April 27 she wrote her will, naming Cassandra as her heir.  In May she and Cassandra moved to 8 College Street in Winchester to be near her doctor.  Austen died in the early hours of July 18, 1817, and a few days later was buried in Winchester Cathedral.  She was 41 years old.

A watercolor of Jane painted by Cassandra, circa 1810.

A watercolor of Jane painted by Cassandra, circa 1810.


“The Jane Austen Society of North America.” – About Jane Austen. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2014.

“Jane Austen.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 18 Jan. 2014. Web. 25 Jan. 2014.

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Letter Writing in Jane Austen’s Time

Adapted by Anne Flinders, dramaturg, from Vic Sanborn

Much of the communication between characters in Pride and Prejudice happens in letters. In fact, it is suspected by some scholars that First Impressions, Jane Austen’s first draft of Pride and  Prejudice, was an epistolary novel. Here are some interesting facts about how letters were written and sent in Georgian England.

  • Until the rise of the fountain pen in the mid-1800s, writing implements included the quill pen, an inkstand filled with ink, pen knife, and sometimes a writing box.
  • Quill pens, most commonly obtained from the wing feathers of a goose, had to be sharpened often with a pen knife. The average quill pen lasted for only a week before it was discarded.

    Quill pen in an inkwell with sealing wax and a parchment letter.

    Quill pen in an inkwell with sealing wax and a parchment letter.

  • Creating quill pens was an art, since the nib had to be carefully cut with a knife so that the hollow core would hold just the right amount of ink and release it steadily under pressure.
  • Writers dried wet ink by sprinkling grains of sand over the words. In the 19th century, roller blotters made their appearance.
  •  If the writer wrote for any length of time, fingers on the writing hand would often become ink stained.
  • Letters were written on sheet of paper that was folded and sealed. The recipient of the letter had to pay for the delivery.

    A cross-written letter, circa 1800.

    A cross-written letter, circa 1800.

  • The fee to send a letter was based on the size of a letter and the distance it traveled. Therefore, the fewer pages used, the less expensive the cost.
  • To keep the letter affordable, people wrote in a cross letter style (as shown above).
  • Envelopes were not used. They would have added an additional sheet of paper and cost more for the recipient.

    Addressed letter with wax seal, 1830.

    Addressed letter with wax seal, 1830.

  • A sender would seal the letter with a custom wax seal stamp, which in some instances bore the family crest or the sender’s initials.
  • The address on the outside directed the bearer of the letter to the city or town, street, and the name of the receiver.
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The Education of Upper Class Young Men

By Austin Jensen (appearing as Charles Bingley in BYU’s Pride and Prejudice)

As England was and continues to be a class-conscious society, education was built on social lines, and even the public schools were divided into castes, with certain schools not only determining which set you belonged to, but also which college you would attend at Oxford or Cambridge. In wealthy families, boys might be educated at home by a live-in tutor until they were old enough to attend an elite school, or they might be sent to live with a scholarly man to be educated in his home before going on to Oxford or Cambridge, but most commonly the sons of the wealthy attended a public boarding school. [1]

 “Public” schools were founded through generous donations for the male children of the towns of Eton and Harrow, and they were originally open to all. The concept of the “grammar” school came from the fact that Latin and Greek grammar was the basis of the program. Eventually, these public schools began to operate as private schools for the children of rich patrons.

These “public” schools were a social experiment in an era when education was patchwork at best.  No national school system existed at the beginning of the 19th Century. The rich hired a governess to teach their female children and a tutor to educate their sons until the boys could go off to Eton, Harrow, Oxford, and Cambridge.   Children of the poor were sent off to work the fields, or if fortunate, to an apprenticeship. [2]

Schools like Eton College and Harrow School were all-boy boarding schools. When the boys entered, they were 13 years old, and they spend five years before they graduated when they became 18 years old.

A late 18th century school for boys.

A late 18th century school for boys.

The original curriculum concentrated on prayers, Latin and devotion, and “as late as 1530 no Greek was taught”. . Studies of the Classics, Latin, and Greek were standard, as were languages such as French and Italian. Later the emphasis was on classical studies, dominated by Latin and Ancient History, and, for boys with sufficient ability, Classical Greek. The typical school day began at seven in the morning, and bedtime was around nine or ten. Constant attendance at prayers were required, and there were four services on Sunday.

Uniforms were a visible symbol as a way of establishing their social status. More than is generally recognized today, children from affluent families in the 18th, 19th, and even early 20th Centuries were likely to have very extensive wardrobes. A school boy even in the late 18th Century could own a dozen shirts, almost as many cravats, half a dozen waist coats and tightly fitted breeches, hats, gloves, stockings, hankerchiefs, and heeled shoes. Their wardrobes became much more complicated in the 19th Century, especially as sports became more organized and specialized sport equipment became required.[3]

For breaches of discipline, a boy would be flogged. Eton, specifically, used to be renowned for its use of corporal punishment, generally known as “beating”. Friday was set aside as “flogging day”. Until 1964, offending boys could be summoned to the Head Master or the Lower Master, as appropriate, to receive a birching on the bare posterior, in a semi-public ceremony held in the Library, where there was a special wooden birching block over which the offender was held. [4] However, the main idea of discipline in an English public school was that much of it should be dealt by the boys themselves. At Winchester it was ordained that eighteen of the older boys, called prefects, would “oversee their fellows, and from time to time certify the masters of their behavior and progress in study.” The duty of a prefect was to deliver a “tunding,” that is, beating a disobedient student across the back of his waistcoat with a ground-ash the size of one’s finger. According to an old Prefect of Hall, the art of tunding was to catch the edge of the shoulder blade with the rod, and strike in the same spot every time. In this way it was possible to cut the back of the offending boy’s waistcoat into strips.

All the public schools had their own customs and slang. At Winchester, a “strawberry mess” was a meal of strawberries and ice cream; a “horse-box” was a desk; and “washing stools” were the prefects’ tables, which were placed in commanding positions. A boy would ask of his cohort, “Is Smith a thick, or only a thoking jig?” which would translate as “Is Smith a blockhead or is he a clever boy who likes to loaf?” Each house would record the slang and customs in a book, in which all “notions“, ancient and modern, were recorded.

A boy’s first duty, upon entering the school, was to pass an examination before his superiors on the contents of the book, whereupon he would be accepted, quite easily into the fold of the school–save if he were a complete rotter. In a way, the public school served as conditioning for the adult life of these boys, and was definitely the source of their love for pomp and tradition, and their unflagging devotion to “queen and country.”

Abraham Garland Randall, by American painter James Frothingham, typifies the educated young men of the upper classes.

Abraham Garland Randall, by American painter James Frothingham, typifies the educated young men of the upper classes.

There were university opportunities for gentlemen, though it’s a misnomer that collegiate studies were only available to the wealthy or members of the aristocracy. There were scholarly opportunities for young men of intellect, especially if they could prove worthy of a scholarship. The primary universities for an English gentleman were at Cambridge and Oxford, of which men would first attend at just sixteen or seventeen years of age. And though the educational opportunities at these institutions were virtually limitless, these jaunts at the university were seen as more of a prospect to advance socially than to focus solely on academia.

If a gentleman had neither the inclination nor opportunity to attend the university, he might begin his career in the military. Here the opportunities to expand his knowledge of languages would have been likely (through travel and some ongoing study), though the danger to one’s longevity in this type of career was quite obvious.[5]

 The role of the public school played a large part in the creation of the ruling caste. Though English law regarded education as a right, irrespective of poverty, the access and leisure time required to commit to education has frequently been only in reach of those from the upper classes. The product of these public schools were leaders not only by birth, but by the careful and deliberate grooming of the headmasters. Their status as elite schools for gentlemen solidified after the Industrial Revolution, from which grew the plutocracy, and the emergence of the British Empire, which allowed the sons of younger sons of aristocrats the opportunity to earn a living whilst serving and protecting their nation–which in turn strengthened the ruling elites.[6]


  1. Julie Klassen, . N.p., n. d. 23 Jan 2014.      <;.
  2. Bolen, Cheryl. “The Education of Young Men      and Women in Rengency.” The Regency Reader, 2006. Web. 23 Jan. 2014.      <;.
  3. HBC-SU, . N.p.. Web. 25 Jan 2014.      <;.
  4. B. J. W. Hill, A Portrait of Eton, 1958, and      Tim Card, Eton Renewed: A History of Eton College from 1860 to the Present      Day, 1994
  5. Cambron, Kristy.      “Perlez-vous Francais?.” Regency Reflections. N.p., 12 Sep 2012.      Web. 25 Jan. 2014. <;.
  6. Holland, Evangeline. “Everyday Life in a      Boys’ Public School.” Edwardian Promenade. N.p., 25 Jan      2010. Web. 25 Jan. 2014.      <;.
Posted in Men In Regency England, Social Customs of Regency England | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Book News: Fragment Of Jane Austen’s Handwriting Found

by Annalisa Quinn, February 04, 2014

Jane Austen, pen & ink, artist unknown.

Jane Austen, pen & ink, based on a sketch by Cassandra Austen; artist unknown.

A small but rare sample of Jane Austen’s handwriting has been found tucked into another book at the Jane Austen’s House Museum. The scrap reads, “Men may get into a habit of repeating the words of our Prayers by rote, perhaps without thoroughly understanding — certainly without thoroughly feeling their full force & meaning.” It is thought to be a passage from one of her brother’s sermons, rather than her own composition, though the museum’s curator, Mary Guyatt, told The Guardian, “What especially intrigued us about this fragment is its apparent date, 1814, and the evidence that offers of the cross-currents between Austen’s family life and her literary reflections on prayer in Chapter 34 of Mansfield Park, published the same year.” Writing on the back of the scrap of paper is less legible, but scholars plan to use humidity to try to clean the paper and decipher it.

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Married to Money: Dowries in Victorian England

 By Allyson Thaxton (appearing as Georgiana Darcy in BYU’s Pride and Prejudice)

A dowry, or marriage portion, is a process whereby parental property is distributed to a daughter at her marriage rather than at the holder’s death. In England, failure to provide a customary, or agreed-upon, dowry could cause a marriage to be called off. Dowries have been an important part of society for thousands of years, going even back to the Roman times. It was a custom had amongst all the classes. By time the Victorian Era rolled around, marriages were no longer arranged, but were mostly made amongst similar if not identical classes. It was frowned upon to marry outside of one’s class.

For the upper and middle classes, dowries were viewed as an early payment of the daughter’s inheritance. The dowry was normally given in the form of money, and depending on the wealth of the family, a decent amount was normally given. For example, The 5th Duke of Devonshire, one of the richest men in the British kingdom, bestowed an enormous dowry of £30,000 on his eldest daughter. Another example is Lord Byron, who received a marriage settlement of £20,000 from the parents of Annabella Milbanke who, because of Byron’s extravagant lifestyle, still wasn’t as much of an heiress as he needed to wed. His manner of living had put him in debt more than £20,000—which is almost $6 million today.

A caricature entitled "Reading the Marriage Contract", circa 1830. Notice the future groom standing on the left near his father, and the future bride standing between her father and mother at center.

A caricature entitled “Reading the Marriage Contract”, circa 1830. Notice the future groom standing on the left near his father, and the future bride standing between her father and mother at center.

The size of the dowry was expected to be in direct proportion to the groom’s social status, thus making it virtually impossible for lower class women to marry into upper class families. It is recorded that in Roman times, some families would mortgage their house in order to provide a suitable dowry. Also, if a couple died without children, the woman’s dowry was returned to her family. This emphasized one particular reason why couples wanted children.

If a woman’s family was too poor to afford a dowry, the economic circumstance may have been forbidden her from ever marrying. One of her few options might be to become a mistress to a richer man who could afford to support a large household. Or, sometimes wealthy parishioners might provide dowries for poor young women of good reputation as a form of charity. Overall, dowries were a significant consideration for the marriage opportunities of a daughter, and for the marriage choices of a young gentleman.

For Latter-day Saints, Elder Jeffery R. Holland spoke of the special significance and relationship of the dowry and the endowment. He said “…the very word endowment conveys the essence of that vital link [covenants]. An endowment is a gift. It contains the same root word as dowry, which is a special gift to start a new couple on their married life.” Thus, an endowment in the temple is a gift to be received. When looking at dowries in the light of a special gift, it gives the concept a different meaning. Instead of being a monetary means of attracting a mate, it can be considered not only necessary for progress but sacred, and an honor to receive such a gift.


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Education of Upper-Class Women in Regency Era

By Kristin Perkins (appearing as Caroline Bingley in BYU’s Pride and Prejudice)

A Changing Educational Belief System:

In many ways the early 19th century was a time of changing values in education particularly for women. There were four distinct traditions of women’s education during the Regency period which can be categorized (roughly) as old and new:

  1. (Old) The girl’s school that taught decorum and accomplishments like the one the Bingley sisters attended. The students were generally not of the first circles. Obviously, neither were they poor. Instead, they were exactly what Caroline Bingley was: social climbers. Students at such schools were the daughters of families of lower rank, whether well-off gentry or tradesmen, trying to prepare their daughters for entry into higher society.
  2. (Old) Traditional methods of home schooling, including masters, tutors and governesses. This was practiced by families in the first circles as well as the majority of the gentry and included practical study of household management along with the common accomplishments.
  3. (New) The Rousseau/More approach of giving children freedom to develop their characters and exercise their bodies in a natural environment.
  4. (New) The Industrial Revolution inspired a rapidly burgeoning interest in the sciences and technology that was applied to girls as well as boys, though girls were more likely to be taught the natural sciences than engineering and mathematics. This fit in with the Rousseau approach, as it encouraged healthful outdoor activity to observe the natural world. Truly fashionable ladies of the period attended scientific demonstrations and lectures in London and studied botany and other sciences.
This painting (by Jean Simeon Chardin) shows a Governess and her pupil; one of the most popular types of education for the wealthy.

This painting (by Jean Simeon Chardin) shows a Governess and her pupil; one of the most popular types of education for the wealthy.

By the late 18th century (when the characters of Pride and Prejudice were in their early years of schooling), elements of both of the new schools of educational thought often included by the better families in their daughters’ home schooling, and an academic (read: traditionally male) education was not seen as a detriment for young women.

In Pride and Prejudice it is mentioned that the Miss Bingley’s went to a “private seminary” which was for the wealthy but not necessarily the “well-to-do” and the educational goals of the institution would have been becoming outdated. Such schools had very narrow curricula, described by a contemporary observer thus:

Decorum … was the imperative law of a lady’s inner life as well as her outer habits; … nothing that was not decorous was for a moment admitted. Every movement of the body in entering and quitting a room, in taking a seat and rising from it, was duly criticized. (From a firsthand account, quoted in Wives and Daughters by Joanna Martin)

This was an education in fashion, not in character, but by the time Austen wrote the book (and even more true over a decade later when she published it), that kind of education was fast falling out of fashion. This is particularly important to understanding some of the satire used in Pride and Prejudice for when Caroline sneers at the Bennett’s love of outdoors she is showing an outdated sense of propriety and her own faulty educational background.

Difference between Men and Women’s Education:

It is also important to note that even with educational changes that allowed woman to be more than fashionable objects the gulf of educational equality between men and women even in the upper-class was cavernous.

“Genteel” children might be educated at home by their parents, particularly when young; or by live-in governesses or tutors; or by going off to a private boarding school or to live with a tutor. There might also be lessons with outside “masters” (specialists such as piano teachers, etc.). Some local “Grammar” schools did exist, teaching the educational basics (including Greek and Latin) to higher-class or upwardly mobile boys — but did not admit girls.

Of course, women were not allowed to attend the institutionalized rungs on the educational ladder: “public” schools such as Eton, and the universities (Oxford and Cambridge). The prime symbol of academic knowledge, and more-or-less exclusively masculine educational attainments, was the Classical languages Greek and Latin, to which a great deal of time was devoted in “genteel” boys’ education, but which few women studied.

Since women did not usually have careers as such, and were not “citizens” in the sense of being directly involved in politics, there was little generally-perceived need for such higher education for them, and most writers on the subject of “female education” preferred that women receive a practical (and religious) training for their domestic role — thus Byron once spouted off the remark that women should “read neither poetry nor politics — nothing but books of piety and cookery” (leavened with the conventional “accomplishments” of “music — drawing — dancing”).

As a small more optimistic note  intelligent girls could have an advantage over boys in being able to more or less choose their own studies, and in not being subject to the rather mixed blessings of a more uniform Classical curriculum. This is certainly demonstrated by Jane and Elizabeth (even perhaps Mary) in Pride and Prejudice.

Goals of Education for Upper-Class Woman:

nowing how to sew was imperative for the education of Regency Era women.

Knowing how to sew was imperative for the education of Regency Era women.

As for domestic training, in those days before sewing machines, a relatively large amount of girls’ and women’s time was spent on sewing or needlework (often just abbreviated to “work”); this is not incompatible with “gentility” (as long as it is not done for money, of course). The sheer amount of sewing done by gentlewomen in those days sometimes takes us moderns aback, but it would probably generally be a mistake to view it either as merely constant joyless toiling, or as young ladies turning out highly embroidered ornamental knickknacks to show off their elegant but meaningless accomplishments. Sewing was something to do (during the long hours at home) that often had great practical utility and that wasn’t greatly mentally taxing, and could be done sitting down while engaging in light conversation, or listening to a novel being read. While domestic education then had practical application one of the other main goals for a upper-class woman’s education was quite different.

For women of the “genteel” classes the goal of non-domestic education was thus often the acquisition of “accomplishments”, such as the ability to draw, sing, play music, or speak modern languages (generally French and Italian). Though it was not usually stated with such open cynicism, the purpose of such accomplishments was often only to attract a husband; so that these skills then tended to be neglected after marriage.

Jane Austen humorously explains this herself in her Juvenilia writing about a certain fictional Miss Stanley:

“Miss Stanley had been attended by the most capital masters from the time of her being six years old to the last spring, which, comprehending a period of twelve years, had been dedicated to the acquirement of accomplishments which were now to be displayed and in a few years [i.e. after her probable marriage] to be entirely neglected. She was not… naturally deficient in abilities; but those years which ought to have been spent in the attainment of useful knowledge and mental improvement had all been bestowed in learning Drawing, Italian, and Music.”

Education could be found in private seminaries or through a governess or other tutor for the wealthy but woman were restricted in what schools they could attend and what subjects they could learn of. While educational values were begging to shift by 1811 education for upper-class woman was still often embedded into the clear goal of finding a desirable husband and to this cause great detail was paid due.

For more information on the governess (which I just touched on briefly) this article is helpful:

Works Cited

Bolen, Cheryl . “The Education of Young Men and Women in the Regency.” Cheryl Bolen. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2014. <;.

“Caroline Bingley and female education.” buzzys_bonnet:. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Jan. 2014. <;.

“Pride and Prejudice — Notes on Education, Marriage, Status of Women, etc..” Pride and Prejudice Hypertext. The Republic of Pemberley , n.d. Web. 23 Jan. 2014. <;.

Swords, Barbara . “Selected Works Con“Woman’s Place” in Jane Austen’s England.” Persuasions #10. Jane Austen Society of North America, n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2014. <;.

“The Governess in the Age of Jane Austen.” Jane Austens World. N.p., 18 Apr. 2009. Web. 25 Jan. 2014. <;.

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