Virginia’s Education

The Stephen boys, Thoby and Adrian went to school and to University but the girls, Vanessa and Virginia didn’t. Instead, Virginia was home-schooled by her parents and by private tutors. She also had access to her father’s vast library and to the conversations of the many learned associates of her father that visited their home.

It was accepted at this time that boys would go to school but that it was less important for girls as they would marry, learn suitable social and hostess skills, as a support to their husbands, and have no need of a formal education.

Virginia resented how girls were not usually offered a formal education like boys were and blames her father for her unfair treatment. However, Alexandra Harris writes in her biography of Virginia Woolf that:

With a few rare exceptions, girls in the 1890s simply did not go to school. Leslie might have allowed his children to be the rare exceptions but instead he accepted his wife’s judgement on the matter.

His wife’s judgement was that her daughters would have a future of ‘distinguished domestic activity’ with no need of formal schooling. It seems that in the Woolf household, Julia’s decision was accepted and the girls remained at home. Perhaps Leslie was not to blame for Virginia’s disappointment after all.

Leslie Stephen taught the girls maths and introduced then to the classics. Though Virginia’s parents made huge efforts with her home education, they had other things to do and couldn’t provide the structure or the social aspects that a school would have done.

Benjamin Schwarz is the former literary and national editor for The Atlantic and he states that:

Woolf was intensely conscious of her self-education. True, her father, one of England’s most learned men, had guided that education, and true, Woolf was rigorously trained in Greek and had read widely and deeply in the English and American classics and in history. But as a woman, she was denied the systematized public-school and Oxbridge intellectual training that was the entitlement of the male members of her family and class—and she was acutely aware of her status, for better and for worse, as a non–academically schooled amateur.

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2 thoughts on “Virginia’s Education

  1. Regarding Lancasterian schools, there was one on the site of Wakefield College campus, Margaret Street. It was demolished in the 60s, I suspect, to make way for the tall block of the College.

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