Alison Womble claims that Christina Rossetti's being educated solely at home demonstrates the way the Victorians allowed girls far fewer educational opportunity than boys, and to an important extent she's correct: no equivalent of either the public school or the university existed for women until quite late in the century.
Taking this single fact outside the Victorian context, however, greatly distorts Christina Rossetti's situation and experience. First of all, remember that all her brothers studied outside the home was Latin; they did not attend a university. More important, home schooling is not all that unusual in the biographies of important Victorian authors, male and female. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning, John Stuart Mill, and John Ruskin all studied at home, though Ruskin did later go to Oxford; Elizabeth Barrett Browning was by far the finest Greek scholar of them all.
One must also take into account matters of social and economic class. On the one hand, Christina Rossetti had an unusual Victorian childhood simply because she belonged to the more prosperous parts of society that accounted for no more than ten to fifteen percent of the populace. On the other hand, although no publicly supported schooling was long available for most members of the middle classes, some sort of education, usually in the form of Sunday schools, was available to the poor; according to Bruce Rosen, Scotland had educated poor children since 1807. He adds that between a third and a half of English children attended some sort of school in the early part of the nineteenth century.
Last modified 22 April 2000