In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Education

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Bibliographies
  • Literacy and Reading
  • Female Education
  • Male Education
  • The Governess
  • Public School Literature
  • The Education of Working-Class Children
  • Working-Class Adult Education
  • Adolescent Education
  • Religious Education
  • Juvenile Delinquency, Crime, and Punishment
  • Education and Imperialism
  • Infant Education
  • Higher Education
  • Prominent Victorian Writers on Education

Victorian Literature Education
Jenny Holt
  • LAST REVIEWED: 31 May 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0014


In many ways the history of education goes hand in hand with the history of literacy and the history of reading. For this reason most works that deal with Victorian education are relevant to some extent to scholars of literature, with the majority containing at least some reference to the relationship between education and literature. This bibliography therefore aims to help scholars navigate the vast amount of information available in the field of Victorian education, by recommending a selection of key texts. Although nowadays education is often seen primarily in terms of formal education in schools, colleges, and universities, the word “education” also of course covers much more than just the tutoring or schooling of the student. In a broad sense it includes self-cultivation; autodidacticism; education by means of magazines and newspapers; education through didactic fiction; socialization; and moral, religious, and spiritual development—activities that can take place in a variety of spheres. Indeed, much Victorian education was undertaken not at school but in the home, with a sizable number of Victorian children educated by parents, tutors, or governesses, and some commentators viewed the idea of school with considerable suspicion. It was not until the 1870 Education Act in England that local education boards were established with the aim of providing education for those who, for financial, religious, or social reasons, were unable to attend the schools that were established by the private sector or the church. Only in 1880 did schooling become compulsory for children aged between five and ten. However, as is shown in Vincent 1993 (cited under The Education of Working-Class Children), literacy rates were improving even before state education was established (p. 54). Spurred on by the possibilities that literacy provided in terms of furthering careers, social communication, and leisure, many working-class families and communities took the initiative to educate themselves, taking advantage of ragged schools, charity schools, church schools, and Sunday schools when they could. Education also of course consisted of adults educating themselves, educating each other, and even being educated by children (like Joe in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations). It is vital therefore that a bibliography on Victorian literature and education should avoid framing these topics solely in terms of top-down initiatives devised by social elites to educate the young and that it should instead take into account the many kinds of educational and literary experiences that existed in this era. The scope of this bibliography ranges from literary criticism that focuses on well-known fictional works that deal directly with the subject of education (such as the governess novel, typified by Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre) and school stories (such as Thomas Hughes’s Tom Brown’s Schooldays) to scholarly work on textbooks, magazines, autobiographies, and juvenilia. The section Literacy and Reading has been included, because the issue of learning how to read and write is so central to the production of literature. Most of the works detailed in this article will be of use to advanced scholars and postgraduate students as well as to more ambitious undergraduate students who want to focus on a theme in depth. However, some basic introductory works that may be useful more generally for undergraduates and those new to the field have been included and are indicated as such. I would also urge readers to search in fields that might not be directly related to their own, because many scholarly works have relevance in more than one field.

General Overviews

Because education is such a broad field, this section has been divided into three parts. The section Literature and Formal Education lists some useful texts that bring together the disciplines of literary criticism and educational history in an informative and comprehensive way. The History of Education section contains references to works that should be of use to nonspecialists in education who need basic background information. Studies on Childhood aims to point readers toward research that will provide them with a good grasp of recent work on historical ideas of the child, which are essential to understanding modern critical approaches to literature and education.

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