I have been searching through novels once again to find literary accounts of music lessons. Unlike my previous posts at the beginning of my Chawton trip, where I noted that music was very much seen as an unnecessary addition to education, the accounts I discovered today all pointed to music being very much part of the expected education of a young lady. In fact, the literary examples in these novels all stated that a music master had been bought in to teach music, rather than music being taught by a parent as noted previously. Now, I must admit the advice to ignore music in favour of core subjects such as reading, writing etc. are typically found in memoirs or conduct books that are occasionally written in a narrative style. However, they are very much intended to be read as ‘true’ accounts that young ladies can take as sound advice. Today’s quotes are from novels, written as light entertainment and perhaps depicting idealised accounts of the potential for a young ladies education. What is intriguing is that the ‘fictional’ accounts would require some level of knowledge of the typically education offer to a young lady to resonate with the contemporary audience of the day. It might be idealised, but it is perhaps a true reflection of the desires a young woman, or perhaps the desires a mother had for her daughter.
In the 1823 novel Isabella, the title character’s mother even notes that education was the key to her daughter securing a wealthy husband, unlike her friend Lady Charlotte, who ‘settled’ for a merchant man. The difference between the education of these two girls is made clear. Isabella was given a fine education including music, dance and drawing but was taught to realise the superiority of the opposite sex. Lady Charlotte, on the other hand, was given an education where ‘the child ruled the parent’ which made her initially more attractive but did not secure the fancy of a ‘man of fashion’. Finally, Isabella’s modest, yet fine performance of a ballad song is used almost as a mating dance between her and her future husband as he admired her accomplishment. Yet, Lady Charlotte is noted as being deaf and therefore incapable of using singing for the purposes of peacocking.
Likewise, this theme continues in Simple Tales by Mrs Opie. In the tale ‘The Fashionable Wife and the Unfashionable Husband’, Louisa (aka the fashionable wife) is encouraged to sing for a suitor who has come to visit the house (under her father’s instruction). At first, she is somewhat embarrassed thinking Lord Henry would expect her to be of similar ability to professional theatre performers. Her first performance did not go over well, with her suitor even commenting that she appeared to sing with difficulty and must be suffering from a cold. But the following day, she privately sings a song to which Lord Henry overhears and believes to be better suited to her abilities. However, she is only able to sweetly sing when she thinks she is alone. As soon as he is present, she loses her voice once again. This is another example of music being used as a social manoeuvre between two courting lovers and it would mean that a lady would require some training to attain a level of ability and confidence for public presentation.
In a final account taken from the novel Lumley House, the character Ophelia is provided some masters to teach her music, dancing and drawing despite the financial lack of her adoptive parents. She is depicted as the perfect daughter, who is able to progress in every area of study without difficulty. This account actually specifies ages for when masters were brought in to teach Ophelia – she was first taught reading, writing and grammar and at the age of 6 began to learn music, dancing and drawing until the age of 15.
Though a comparison from conduct books, letters and memoirs will need to be made to find out if this is an idealised or typical age to begin and end training, it is a starting point to understanding how children and their education were assessed. There may not be a school dictating standardised ages and levels of attainment but there appears to be standardisations depending on the wealth and status of young ladies, which has a significant impact in understanding domestic music education.