Thomas Hardy and the Victorian School Mistress by Dr Jonathan Godshaw Memel

Kate Hardy (front left) with other teachers © DCM

Kate Hardy (front left) with other teachers © DCM

‘… she had altogether the air of a woman clipped and pruned by severe discipline, an under-brightness shining through from the depths which that discipline had not yet been able to reach.’

(Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure)

This description of Sue Bridehead during her brief time at college suggests the restrictive character of nineteenth-century teacher training. The two-year programme at Salisbury enforced standards of ‘humble femininity’ while preparing women from various social backgrounds for a vocation in the elementary schools.

Hardy’s sisters, Mary and Katharine (generally known as Kate), attended college at Salisbury while his cousin, Tryphena Sparks, trained at Stockwell.  As schoolmistresses their profession enabled greater independence from the pressure to marry, but their personal freedom was severely restricted during the process of qualifying. Trainee teachers were required to carry out extensive chores and study for long hours and their food portions were meagre. They were also subject to continual surveillance, while their choice of dress was restricted.

In this talk Dr Memel will consider representations of the work and training of female teachers in Hardy’s fiction, showing how the experiences of his female relations inspired acts of solidarity and resistance in his writing.

The forthcoming lecture will take place on Thursday 2 March in the Dorset County Museum’s Victorian Hall and is FREE to the public; however a donation of £3 encouraged to cover costs. Doors open at 7.00pm and talks start at 7.30pm.

For further information contact the Museum on on 01305 756827 or check the website on or follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Next Literary Lives talks:

  • Thursday 25th May, Hardy and Poetry of Encounter by Philip Mallett
  • Thursday 27th July, Mr Hardy and Mrs Henniker – an Enduring Friendship by Helen Angear
  • Thursday 14th September, The Infants’ Grammar by Dr Alan Chedzoy
  • Thursday 26th October, Hardy and Sex Education by Dr Karin Koeler

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