Educational context

Education in Victorian England

Education was not universal during Emily Brontë’s lifetime. Many people, particularly in the new industrial slums, received little or no formal education and were unable to read or write: 

  • Long established schools such as Eton and Winchester had existed for hundreds of years, but were only accessible to the wealthy and powerful, and this period saw the establishment of many more of these public schools
  • There were also old grammar schools, usually in towns and cities, which offered education to some poorer students, but places were limited and they were accessible only to boys
  • There were elementary schools (i.e., junior and infant schools), often set up by either the Church of England or Nonconformist churches
  • There were also various kinds of charity school, established for particular kinds of pupils, such as the daughters of poor or deceased clergymen
  • Other schools were established as small-scale private charities
  • Trades unions and other organizations also set up various kinds of educational establishments, aimed at improving the education of adult members of the working classes
  • Some educational provisions were included in the Factory Acts of the 1830s and 1840s.

It was not until 1870, twenty-two years after Emily Brontë’s death, that the Education Act was passed and made a significant start on the provision by the government of universal elementary education, a process which was completed by the Act of 1902.

Emily Brontë’s education

Roe Head School plaqueEmily Brontë enjoyed three short periods of formal or semi-formal education:

  • 1824-25 at Cowan Bridge School
  • 1835 at Roe Head School
  • 1842 at the Pensionnat Heger in Brussels.

In addition, she made a short stay (1838-9) at Law Hill School, Halifax as a teacher. At the first two of these schools, she would have learnt mathematics, grammar, history, geography, drawing, needlework and some French. At the Pensionnat Heger, she studied French.

The most important part of her education, however, took place at Haworth Parsonage:

  • Her father was well-educated and well-read and allowed her the free run of his library – here, she could read history, philosophy, and theology as well as fiction, poetry and drama
  • She and her sisters were able to borrow further books from local libraries and institutions
  • She benefited not only from her father’s conversation but also from the company of two sisters and a brother who were equally enthusiastic about reading and writing.

Though the biggest influence on Wuthering Heights is Emily’s surroundings, it is possible to see the effect of her reading in the novel (See Literary Context) and she shows us the importance of reading, as well as its limitations. (See Imagery: Books)

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