Victorian Novels and Educational Reform: A Study of Dickens, Hughes, and Peacock
CitationNeves, Lindsey J. 2016. Victorian Novels and Educational Reform: A Study of Dickens, Hughes, and Peacock. Master's thesis, Harvard Extension School.
AbstractThis thesis analyzes how Victorian novelists Charles Dickens, Thomas Hughes, and Thomas Love Peacock depict the influences of educational reformers in their three works: Hard Times, Tom Brown’s School Days, and Gryll Grange respectively. Written in an era of rapid sociological and economic change due to the emergence of the middle class and effects of industrialization, these texts illustrate rising conflicts between a new scientific age and a legacy of traditional classical study. As a result of such transformational forces, these three novelists witnessed a shifting regard for the value of the humanities as scientific study became seen as the more “useful” form of learning. This new conceptualization of “useful knowledge” and its repercussions can be seen in the characters and plot trajectories of the three novels examined in this study.
Considering the term “useful knowledge” as it relates to purpose and content of characters’ educations, the present paper examines the impacts of educational reformers Jeremy Bentham, Thomas Arnold, and Henry Brougham as they appear in the novels’ public and private schools, as well as social and domestic spheres. As each work features extensive expository information on characters’ educational backgrounds, one can infer that the relationship between education, plot trajectory, and characterization is one that is deeply interconnected. A contextualized reading of the novels as products of the Victorian educational reform movement offers insight into the effects of an unbalanced education on characters’ intellectual, emotional, and moral development. Exploring the conflicts between science and the humanities, “useful knowledge” and classical learning, and the standardization of education by Competitive Examination, this project investigates how the novels offer commentary on the relationship between such tensions and characters’ morality, social relationships, and imagination within educational systems. Evaluating the novelists’ varying depictions of reformers in their novels, we can see how such shifts in curricula could have significant consequences--either harmful or beneficial--for both the individual and society.
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