In 1837, when Queen Victoria came to the throne, no institution of higher education in Britain was open to women. By the end of the century, a quiet revolution had occurred: women had penetrated even the venerable walls of Oxford and Cambridge and could earn degrees at the many new universities founded during Victoria's reign. During the same period, novelists increasingly put intellectually ambitious heroines students, teachers, and frustrated scholars—at the center of their books. Educating Women analyzes the conflict between the higher education movement's emphasis on intellectual and professional achievement and the Victorian novel's continuing dedication to a narrative in which women's success is measured by the achievement of emotional rather than intellectual goals and by the forging of social rather than institutional ties.
Focusing on works by Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, Anna Leonowens, and Thomas Hardy, Laura Morgan Green demonstrates that those texts are shaped by the need to mediate the conflict between the professionalism and publicity increasingly associated with education, on the one hand, and the Victorian celebration of women as emblems of domesticity, on the other. Educating Women shows that the nineteenth-century “heroines” of both history and fiction were in fact as indebted to domestic ideology as they were eager to transform it.