Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Moorland Cottage: Ch. 3 Annotation, Victorian Schools

Gaskell Blog © Katherine C.

Schools in the Victorian era were generally harsh places. With only one stove or fire, the rooms were generally cold. Schools for the wealthy had higher standards but all believed a school should mirror the world outside and bullying was for the most part tolerated. In this kind of environment it’s no wonder Edward’s character gets more tyrannical.

Subjects taught ranged from geography, reading, writing, arithmetic, Latin, and Greek, but there was little knowledge of how children learn. One method was used copying and repeating what the teacher told them. The Victorian’s thought everyone could learn at the same speed so those who were slower were thought lazy or neglecting their studies and made to wear the Dunce’s cap, a humiliating punishment. Then there was the cane, which could be used for any reason, if a pupil was sulky, late, talked back, or didn’t wash their hands.


“BBC – Primary History – Victorian Britain – Victorian schools.” BBC – Homepage. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Feb. 2011. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/primaryhistory/victorian_britain/victorian_schools/&gt;.

“Victorian School.” Welcome to Nettlesworth Primary School. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Feb. 2011. <http://www.nettlesworth.durham.sch.uk/time/victorian/vschool.html&gt;.


6 Comments Add yours

  1. Diane says:

    Poor Maggie – does anything get her down? Her nasty brother is leaving – I’d be rejoicing – she’s sad that she can’t go to the train station to see him off.
    Her mother is a piece of work – can only the Buxtons and Nancy see it. It says Frank learnt “to dislike Mrs. Browne accordingly, notwithstanding all her sugary manner toward himself. Mrs. BRowne reminds me of Mrs. Norris the complaining aunt in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park – but in that novel Fanny Price was too much of a goody-two-shoes for me to really like whereas, I feel my heart go out to Maggie.

    I love the descriptions EG uses for people. MAggie says Mrs Buxton in “so like a cloud” and Erminia’s life was like a “shattered mirror; every part dazzling and brilliant, but wanting the coherency and perfection of a whole”. How does one even begin to come up with such beautiful language?

    Ned comes back unfortunately and let’s Maggie know that he doesn’t approve of her new “attitude” – he says “Be obedient… that is what a woman has to be” of course, he doesn’t bother to think that a son also should be obedient to his parents (if they would ever set forth any discipline).

    Ratheri than learning the good things in school that could help him become a mature gentleman in society, Ned’s character is only deepened at school and he comes home worse than he went. He needs to go to a school like Mr Buxton where they would have “flogged the life out of a boy who did anything mean or underhanded”

    In this chapter we see all the Buxton’s taking to Maggie and encouraging her for improvement while Mr Buxton’s money will prove to be well wasted on Ned’s education.

    1. I agree Diane, the character descriptions are brilliant, especially that of Erminia. 🙂 Moorland Cottage has some wonderful prose. 🙂

  2. Phylly3 says:

    I agree also about the character descriptions, especially Ermina’s being described as “a shattered mirror”. That phrase really stood out for me and I had to read it aloud to my husband. I don’t remember the last time I heard such an original portrayal of a personality as that.

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