Jane Austen : A Life
de Claire Tomalin
Boarding schools for girls were not hard to find in the 1780s, not least because keeping a school was one of the very few ways in which a woman could hope to earn a respectable living; but accounts of what went on in them make depressing, and sometimes horryfying, reading. At the time the Austen girls were sent to Oxford, a seven-year-old called Elizabeth Ham, daughter of well-to-do parents in the West Country, found herself at ‘Ma’am Tucker’s Seminary’ in Weymouth, where the pupils were fed on the principle ‘eat the bread and smell the cheese’, and all made to sleep in the drawing room. By day Elizabeth was kept confined in the same unaired room, sewing on a wooden bench for hours at a time until she and her eyes were worn out, Mrs Tucker occasionnally enlivening things by reading aloud from the Pilgrim’s Progress.