The boarding school testimony of Charlotte Brontë
Article publication date: 8 September 2022
Issue publication date: 22 November 2022
Charlotte Brontë integrated her own and her sisters' traumatic boarding school experiences into her novel, Jane Eyre (1847) as a way of expressing her anger through autobiographical fiction. The aim is to link contemporary research into boarding school trauma to the relevant events, thereby identifying what she wrote as a testimony contributing to the long history of the problematic nature of boarding schools.
Autobiographical fiction is discussed as a form of testimony, placing Jane Eyre in that category. Recent research into the traumatic experiences of those whose parents chose to send them to boarding school is presented, leading to an argument that educational historians need to analyse experience rather than limiting their work to structure and planning. The traumatic events the Brontë sisters experienced at the Clergy Daughters' School are outlined as the basis for what is included in Jane Eyre at the fictional Lowood School. Specific traumatic events in the novel are then identified and contemporary research into boarding school trauma applied.
The findings reveal Charlotte's remarkable insight into the psychological impact on children being sent away to board at a time when understandings about trauma and boarding school trauma did not exist. An outcome of the analysis is that it places the novel within the field of the history of education as a testimony of boarding school life.
This is the first application of boarding school trauma research to the novel.
Trimingham Jack, C. (2022), "The boarding school testimony of Charlotte Brontë", History of Education Review, Vol. 51 No. 2, pp. 200-213. https://doi.org/10.1108/HER-05-2021-0018
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