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Written by Tarn
(4/4/2008 4:50 a.m.)
in consequence of the missive, Educating girls, penned by Carol L
According to "Jane Austen: A Family Record", Jane Austen's first experience with schools for girls was when she was sent, at the age of seven to an institution run by a Mrs. Cawley, the aunt of Austen's cousin, Jane Cooper, who joined them there in Oxford, in the spring of 1783.
It was supposed that access to the masters of Oxford would be of benefit to Cassandra, even if Jane was really too young. However, they were not there long. In the summer, Mrs. Cawley moved the school to Portsmouth. An epidemic of fever broke out. All three girls fell ill with a 'putrid throat'. Jane Cooper wrote to Steventon, and Mrs Cooper and Mrs Austen set off directly and brought their daughters home. Mrs Cooper caught the infection from her daughter and died of it that October. Jane Austen nearly died of it, and took a year to convalesce from it.
When she was recovered, Jane moved with Cassandra to Abbey School (located in what used to be an Abbey) at Reading, run by a Mrs. La Tournelle(aka Sarah Hackitt), and famous in its day. A Miss Butt, who attended the same school in 1790, wrote a different story in her auto-biography. She claimed Mrs. La Tournelle could not speak a world of French, and "was only fit for giving out clothes for the wash, making tea, ordering dinner and, in fact, doing the work of a housekeeper".
Miss Butt adds that "The liberty which the first class had was so great that if we attended our tutor in his study for an hour or two every morning . . . no human being ever took the trouble to inquire where else we spent the rest of the day between our meals. Thus, whether we gossiped in one turret or another, whether we lounged about the garden, or out of the window above the gateway, no one so much as said "Where have you been, mademoiselle?"
However, it did not appear to have prevented Jane Austen from scrambling her way into a little education, and in fact, in The Family Record, they impute the schools reputation to Mrs. La Tournelles partner, Miss Pitts, a former parlour boarder at the school (unlike the Austen girls, whose father could not afford to keep them there) whose wealthy, single uncle had disinherited her. Miss Pitts played, sang, sewed and danced well, in addition to being fluent in French.
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