Their Fathers’ Libraries:
Reading and the Eighteenth-Century
Woman Writer
Gillian Dow, Chawton House Library and University of Southampton
George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss, 1860
‘She understands what one’s talking about so as never was.
And you should hear her read - straight off, as if she knowed
it all beforehand. An’ allays at her book! But it’s bad – it’s
bad,’ Mr Tulliver added, sadly, checking this blamable
exultation, ‘a woman’s no business wi’ being so clever; it’ll
turn to trouble, I doubt. But, bless you! […] she’ll read the
books and understand ‘em, better nor half the folks as are
growed up.’
George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss, 1860
‘The History of the Devil,’ by Daniel Defoe; not quite the right book
for a little girl,’ said Mr Riley. ‘How came it among your books,
Tulliver?’
‘Why, it's one o’ the books I bought at Partridge’s sale. They was all
bound alike – it’s a good binding, you see – an’ I thought they’d be all
good books. There’s Jeremy Taylor’s Holy Living and Dying among
‘em; I read in it often of a Sunday […] and there’s a lot more of ‘em,
sermons mostly, I think; but they’ve all got the same covers, and I
thought they were all o’ one sample, as you may say. But it seems one
mustn’t judge by th’ outside. This is a puzzlin’ world.’
Self-educated in their Fathers’ Libraries
Mary Hays, Female Biography, 1807
On Catharine Macaulay:
Her father […] paid no attention to the education of his
daughters, who were left […] to the charge of an antiquated,
well recommended, but ignorant, governess, ill qualified for
the task she undertook […] Having found her way into her
father’s well-furnished library, she became her own purveyor,
and rioted in intellectual luxury. Every hour in the day, which
no longer hung heavy upon her hands, was now occupied
and improved.
Self-educated in their Fathers’ Libraries
Norma Clarke, Queen of the Wits: A Life of Laetitia
Pilkington, 2008
As well as giving her free access to his own library, Dr Van
Lewen made sure his clever daughter had a plentiful supply
of new books – ‘the best, and politest Authors’ – and took
pleasure in explaining whatever she could not understand. It
appears that this was the extent of her education. No mention
is made of schooling, or masters or mistresses.
Charlotte Lennox, The Female Quixote, 1752
From her earliest Youth she had discovered a Fondness for
Reading, which extremely delighted the Marquis; he
permitted her therefore the Use of his Library, in which,
unfortunately for her, were great Store of Romances, and,
what was still more unfortunate, not in the original French,
but very bad Translations.
Charlotte Lennox, The Female Quixote, 1752
The deceased Marchioness had purchased these
Books to soften a Solitude which she found very
disgreeable; and, after her Death, the Marquis
removed them from her Closet into his Library,
where Arabella found them.
Charlotte Lennox, The Female Quixote, 1752
The Impropriety of receiving a Lover of a Father's
recommending appeared in its strongest Light. What Lady in
Romance ever married the Man that was chose for her? In
those Cases the Remonstrances of a Parent are called
Persecutions; obstinate Resistance, Constancy and Courage;
and an Aptitude to dislike the Person proposed to them, a
noble Freedom of Mind which disdains to love or hate by the
Caprice of others.
Charlotte Lennox, The Female Quixote, 1752
The Girl is certainly distracted, interrupted the
Marquis, excessively enraged at the strange Speech
she had uttered: These foolish Books my Nephew
talks of have turned her Brain! Where are they?
pursued he, going into her Chamber: I'll burn all I
can lay my Hands upon.
Maria Edgeworth, Mademoiselle Panache, 1801
The carriages drove away, and Mr. Mountague was just mounting his horse, when he
saw the book, which had been pulled out of lady Augusta's pocket, and which by
mistake was left where it had been thrown upon the grass. What was his
astonishment, when, upon opening it, he saw one of the very worst books in the
French language, a book which never could have been found in the possession of any
woman of delicacy, of decency. Her lover stood for some minutes in silent
amazement, disgust, and we may add, terrour.
[…]
” I can assure you," said her ladyship, ” I don't know what's in this book, I never
opened it, I got it this morning at the circulating library at Cheltenham, I put it into
my pocket in a hurry — pray what is it?"
” If you have not opened it," said Mr. Mountague, laying his hand upon the book, ”I
may hope that you never will, but this is the second volume”.
The Modern Minerva;
or, the Bat’s Seminary for Young Ladies (1810)
... the lady grew proud;
Plain Bat was so horridly vulgar, she vow’d,
That the whole clan of vermin and reptiles, by dozens,
Might claim her alliance as hundreth cousins;
So determin’d the Public in future should see,
On her cards of admission, Madame Chauvesouris;
As a school must of course rise in merit and fame,
If the Governess boast of a Frenchified name.
Susan Ferrier, Marriage, 1818
Lady Maclaughlan’s Library
‘All the books that should ever have been published are here. […] Here’s the Bible,
great and small, with apocrypha and concordance! Here’s Floyer’s Medicina
Gerocomica, or, the Galenic Art of preserving Old Men’s Health; - Love’s Art of
Surveying and Measuring Land; - Transactions of the Highland Society; - Glass’
Cookery; - Flavel’s Fountain of Life Opened; - Fencing Familiarized; - Observations
on the use of Bath Waters; - Cure for Soul Sores; - De Blondt’s Military Memoirs; MacGhie’s Book-keeping; - Mead on Pestilence; - Astenthology, or the Art of
preserving Feeble Life!’
Susan Ferrier, Marriage, 1818
Lady Maclaughlan’s Library
Lady Juliana turned over a few pages of her own
book, then begged Henry would exchange with her;
but both were in so different a style from the French
and German school she had been accustomed to,
that they were soon relinquished in disappointment
and disgust.
Susan Ferrier, Marriage, 1818
Lady Juliana on the education of her twin Adelaide, who remains with
her in England:
As the first step she engaged two governesses, French and
Italian; modern treatises on the subject of education were
ordered from London, looked at, admired, and arranged on
gilded shelves and sofa tables; and could their contents have
exhaled with the odours of their Russia leather bindings,
Lady Juliana’s dressing-room would have been what Sir
Joshua Reynolds says every seminary of learning is “an
atmosphere of floating knowledge.’
Susan Ferrier, Marriage, 1818
Lady Julianna on her twin daughter Mary, educated by family in
Scotland.
Then what can I do with a girl who has been educated in
Scotland? She must be vulgar - all Scotch women are so.
They have red hands and rough voices; they yawn, and blow
their noses, and talk, and laugh loud, and do a thousand
shocking things. Then, to hear the Scotch brogue - oh,
heavens! I should expire every time she opened her mouth!
Anxiety of Female Readership
Jeanne Marie le Prince de Beaumont, Magasin des Enfants (1756;
contains her version of Beauty and the Beast)
Louise d’Epinay, Les Conversations d’Emilie, (1782)
Mary Wollstonecraft, The Female Reader: or Miscellaneous Pieces, in
Prose and Verse: Selected from the Best Writers, and Disposed under
Proper Heads: for the Improvement of Young Women (1789)
Catharine Macaulay, Letters on Education (1790)
Clara Reeve, Plans of Education with Remarks on the System of Other
Writers (1792)
Stéphanie-Félicité de Genlis
(1746-1830), portraits in collection at Chawton
House Library
Adèle et Théodore
and Adelaide and Theodore
 Twenty nine editions of
French text between 1782
and 1810.
 English translation 1783;
revised edition of the
translation published in
1784, reprinted in 1788 and
1796.
 Spanish, Italian, Dutch,
Polish and Russian
translations.
Madame de Genlis, Adelaide and Theodore ‘Course of
Reading pursued by Adelaide, from the Age
of six Years, to Twenty-two’
At fourteen she read Tremblay’s Instructions from a Father to his
Children; a good book, which contains a course of instruction well
written upon all subjects; The History of France, by Velly, &c,; Le
Theatre de Boissy; le Theatre de Marivaux, le Spectacle de la Nature,
by Mons. Pluche; Histoire des Insectes, in two vols. and Lady M. W.
Montague’s [sic] Letters. Adelaide began at this time to read Italian,
which she already spoke very well, and set out with the translation of
the Peruvian Letters, and les Comedies de Goldoni. […she] also took
extracts of what she read.
Comments by a British reader, Chawton
House Library copy of Adelaide and
Theodore
Adelaide and Theodore
serialised in
The Lady’s Magazine
May 1785 to April 1789
Woodstock Society 1784,
copy of Adelaide and
Theodore now in the Bodleian
Library
Vet A5 e. 5396
Jane Austen’s Emma:
The Birth of Miss Weston
Mrs. Weston’s friends were all made happy by her
safety; and if the satisfaction of her well-doing could be
increased to Emma, it was by knowing her to be the
mother of a little girl […] no one could doubt that a
daughter would be most to her; and it would be quite a
pity that any one who so well knew how to teach,
should not have their powers in exercise again.
‘She has had the advantage, you know, of practising on
me,’ she continued– ‘like La Baronne d’Almane on La
Comtesse d’Ostalis, in Madame de Genlis’ Adelaide
and Theodore, and we shall now see her own little
Adelaide educated on a more perfect plan.’
Jane Austen’s Emma 1815:
Mr Knightley on Emma’s reading
Emma has been meaning to read more ever since she was
twelve years old. I have seen a great many lists of her
drawing-up at various times of books that she meant to read
regularly through--and very good lists they were--very well
chosen, and very neatly arranged--sometimes alphabetically,
and sometimes by some other rule. The list she drew up
when only fourteen--I remember thinking it did her judgment
so much credit, that I preserved it some time; and I dare say
she may have made out a very good list now. But I have done
with expecting any course of steady reading from Emma.
Madame de Genlis, Adelaide and Theodore ‘Course of
Reading pursued by Adelaide, from the Age
of six Years, to Twenty-two’
At fourteen she read Tremblay’s Instructions from a Father to his
Children; a good book, which contains a course of instruction well
written upon all subjects; The History of France, by Velly, &c,; Le
Theatre de Boissy; le Theatre de Marivaux, le Spectacle de la Nature,
by Mons. Pluche; Histoire des Insectes, in two vols. and Lady M. W.
Montague’s [sic] Letters. Adelaide began at this time to read Italian,
which she already spoke very well, and set out with the translation of
the Peruvian Letters, and les Comedies de Goldoni. […she] also took
extracts of what she read.
Madame de Genlis, Memoirs, 1825
My father had the utmost affection for me; but he did not interfere with
my education in any point but one: he wished to make me a woman of
firm mind, and I was born with numberless little antipathies: I had a
horror of all insects, particularly of spiders and frogs […] He would
frequently oblige me to catch spiders with my fingers and to hold toads
in my hands. In other respects, Mademoiselle de Mars alone had the
direction of my studies; she made me repeat my catechism, and gave
me daily a lesson of singing, and two on the harpsichord […] At the
request of Mademoiselle de Mars, my father gave us, out of his library,
the Clelia of Mademoiselle de Scudery, and the Theatre of
Mademoiselle Barbier: these two books were our delight for a long
time; and from thence, at eight years old, I began to compose
romances and comedies, which I dictated to Mademoiselle de Mars,
for I did not yet know how to form a single letter.
George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss, 1860
‘I don’t think I am well, father,’ said Tom; ‘I wish you’d ask
Mr. Stelling not to let me do Euclid; it brings on the
toothache, I think.’ […]
‘Euclid, my lad,--why, what’s that?’ said Mr. Tulliver.
‘Oh, I don’t know; it’s definitions, and axioms, and triangles,
and things. It’s a book I’ve got to learn in—there’s no sense in
it.’
‘Go, go!’ said Mr. Tulliver, reprovingly; ‘you mustn’t say so.
You must learn what your master tells you. He knows what
it’s right for you to learn.’
George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss,
‘Take back your Corinne’ said Maggie, drawing a book from
under her shawl. ‘You were right in telling me she would do
me no good; but you were wrong in thinking I should wish to
be like her. […] As soon as I came to the blond-haired young
lady reading in the park, I shut it up, and determined to read
no further. I foresaw that that light-complexioned girl would
win away all the love from Corinne and make her miserable.
[…] If you could give me some story, now, where the dark
woman triumphs, it would restore the balance. I want to
avenge Rebecca and Flora MacIvor and Minna, and all the
rest of the dark unhappy ones.’
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She has had the advantage, you know, of practising on me