The Brontës and their reading: what the Brontës read and their Home School experience

3: Tutor –Governess –Schoolmistress

All the girls were sent to school at different times to be educated for governesses and Branwell himself took on some more detailed study of the Classics when he decided to become a tutor. The following standard work for governesses during the nineteenth century was included in the small Brontë library: Miss Richmal Mangnall’s Historical and Miscellaneous Questions for the use of young people (1813 edition). It included various questions and answers, arranged like a quiz book. This apparently continued to be used in the education of young women until the turn of the twentieth century.

The education for a governess was not so extensive as that received by boys but Charlotte and Emily went to Brussels to improve their French and German in order to plan for opening their own school and expanded their knowledge of European history, drawing and music and foreign literature such as the works of the French author Victor Hugo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame).

Religion and the Natural World

Each child owned at least one Bible and a Book of Common Prayer. They also attended Church services and Sunday school. Patrick had always emphasized the importance of reading the Bible. Juliet Barker also speculates that Aunt Branwell may have had some “Methodist Magazines” full of miracles and apparitions (The Brontës p.146). Later all the children would take their turn as teachers in the new (1832) Sunday school at Haworth. As adults all the siblings struggled with their faith at different times in their lives and this was a period of lively religious debate, even in Haworth and Keighley.

Living as they did virtually on the moors, it is not surprising that the Brontë family had access to books on the natural world and apart from the classics and religion, the books in Patrick’s library were largely on natural history. They had several books that were illustrated by Thomas Bewick, such as the History of British Birds and probably his illustrated editions of Fables for Children (The Brontës, p. 150). Another popular book at the time was also Gilbert White’s Natural History of Selborne. They would also possibly have had access to local herbal remedies, botanical and natural folklore and folktales through their servants and local village contacts.

Bewick’s History of British Birds (British Library)

Gina Birdsall and Angela Speight

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