The Real Regency Hoyden: the Sexed Mind

During the Regency, the rising middle class added to the ever increasing demand for more daughters to be accomplished. Voluminous writings pondered the wisdom of educating so many females.

“The shoemaker, the publican, the barber, the tailor, the butcher, the journeyman weaver, send their daughters to boarding schools, and no sooner do they enter those seminaries then they are all at once transformed into young ladies,..” — An Inquiry into the Best System of Female Education, J. L. Chirol (1809)

The italics are the author’s–as is the scorn.

"And what is hell, can you tell me that? A pit full of fire. ..What must you do to avoid it? ..I must keep in good health and not die." --Jane Eyre

“And what is hell, can you tell me that?
A pit full of fire.
..What must you do to avoid it?
..I must keep in good health and not die.” –Jane Eyre

Despite this disdain, it was generally conceded that female education was not a bad thing, as long as it did not seek to blur the differences between the minds of male and female:

 “The mind of each sex has some kind of natural bias…Women have generally quicker perceptions, men have juster sentiments. Women consider how things may be prettily laid. Men how they may be properly laid.” — Hannah More, Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education  (1811).

Table-setting was always the province of men in great houses.

The sexed mind refers to that ruling theory of education in the Regency which demands curriculum be tailored to the sex of the pupil. The character of a hoyden figures largely in these musings, although she does not cut as attractive a figure as she did during the Restoration. She exists to illustrate what educators must endeavor to thwart–the boldness and vivacity that threatens to allow a girl to cross over into the province of men.

Just possessing qualities of quickness, even in a young girl, is evidence of her lacking in mental capacity, according to the noted Reverend John Bennett in his Strictures on Female Education (1793). It was an argument that couldn’t be answered, and therefore became more cemented as the nineteenth century wore on.

Even the feminists who should have stood by the hoyden added their scorn to Mr. Chirol’s:

“I also object to many females being shut up together in nurseries, schools or convents. I cannot recollect, without indignation, the jokes and hoyden tricks which knots of young women indulged themselves in, when in my youth accident threw me, an awkward rustic, in their way.” — Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792)

"Ye virgins fair; ye lovely flowers, the blooming pride of vernal hours! Chase while I speak, O chase away, what e're is frolic, lively and gay."

“Ye virgins fair; ye lovely flowers, the blooming pride of vernal hours! Chase while I speak, O chase away, what e’re is frolic, lively and gay.”

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4 thoughts on “The Real Regency Hoyden: the Sexed Mind

  1. It seems the definition of hoyden to those folks was an “uncultured” girl. That is, she didn’t fit into the culture of “gentry”. If she had status (money and name) , would she be forgiven for flaunting society rules and being a hoyden?

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    • There’s an element of meanness, to be sure. But I think that is not a comprehensive illustration of the rebellion going on, whether in boarding houses or at home.

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