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The (un)Educated Victorian Woman

Augusta was fourteen when her father moved the family to Mobile.    She was obviously quite bright and her mother Sarah encouraged her reading and tended to her education.   Later Augusta would write that her mother was “in every sense my Alma Mater, the one to whom I owe everything.”    The north had a number of female seminaries where women might further their education, but in the South educational opportunities for women were few.    Augusta was able to attend school in Mobile for only a short time; her family’s financial difficulties forced her to drop out.

Still, Matt Evans' decision to move from Texas to Mobile gave Augusta far more educational opportunities than she had on the frontier.    Here there were libraries where Augusta could read everything from Ovid to Lord Byron, retaining much of what she read with what Fidler describes as her ‘photographic memory.’   Nina Baym and John Sledge agree that it was because Augusta was self-taught that she filled her letters and books with abundant literary and classical allusions – partly to demonstrate that a woman could learn as much as any man but also to teach the women who were her readers.

The frequent allusions to Classical mythology and other esoteric subjects in Augusta’s novels were one of the major complaints among critics of her day, and is a major stumbling block for those who attempt to read her novels today.   But since  her novels attracted such a major following for better than sixty years, it’s obvious  readers of that period didn’t mind her dense, erudite prose.