whilst Maud and Dora were still with their homely schoolmistress

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Tea Addict

Senior Member
Republic of Korea Korean
Hello everyone. I would like to know what "whilst Maud and Dora were still with their homely schoolmistress" means in the following sentences:

"Their life had a tone of melancholy, the painful reserve which characterises a certain clearly defined class in the present day. Had they been born twenty years earlier, the children of that veterinary surgeon would have grown up to a very different, and in all probability a much happier, existence, for their education would have been limited to the strictly needful, and—certainly in the case of the girls—nothing would have encouraged them to look beyond the simple life possible to a poor man’s offspring. But whilst Maud and Dora were still with their homely schoolmistress, Wattleborough saw fit to establish a Girls’ High School, and the moderateness of the fees enabled these sisters to receive an intellectual training wholly incompatible with the material conditions of their life. To the relatively poor (who are so much worse off than the poor absolutely) education is in most cases a mocking cruelty."

- George Gissing, New Grub Street, Chapter 3

In this novel which was published in 1891 in the United Kingdom, the two sisters of the Milvain family, Maud and Dora, were often told by their acquaintances that they were cold, and some people declared that their superior air was ridiculous and insufferable. The narrator is attributing their touch of pride to their poverty, and saying that if they had been born twenty years earlier, there would have been no Girls' High School, and they would have been much happier than now.

In this part, I would like to know what "whilst Maud and Dora were still with their homely schoolmistress" means.
Does it mean "while they were going to an elementary school"?
In which grade of school does a schoolmistress teach in the Victorian England? An elementary school...? Or a secondary school...?

I would very much appreciate your help. :)
 
  • Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    It probably means that they were educated at home, maybe with a governess, learning the non-academic skills considered suitable for women at the time. There was no education available for women comparable with the education their brothers got at local grammar or private boarding schools until schools for girls offering a similar academic education were established in the last quarter of the 19th century.

    My own school was one of them, founded in 1895 as part of a country wide movement. Girls were prepared for university entrance with the same syllabus as the boys.

    'Schoolmistress' is an old-fashioned term for female teacher at any level.
     

    Tea Addict

    Senior Member
    Republic of Korea Korean
    Dear Hermione Golightly,

    Thank you very much for the detailed explanation!
    The scene here is set around (possibly before) 1888, so it would be very likely that the girls were educated at home.
    And because they were grown up at the fictional town named Wattleborough, rather than in a metropolitan city such as London, their chances of going to schools at a young age would have been narrower.
    I was confused because the word contained "school," which made me think that the word might have something to do with schools, but I guess I was wrong.
    I sincerely appreciate your help. :)
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    If the family was poor, I don't suppose they would have had a governess.

    Perhaps the girls went to a dame school. The "schoolmistresses" at such schools often lacked proper qualifications.

    Dame schools were quite varied and some of them were little more than day care facilities while others provided their pupils with a good foundation in the basics. There was little control over the standard of teaching and some were even run by almost illiterate teachers.
    The Victorian School
     

    Tea Addict

    Senior Member
    Republic of Korea Korean
    Dear velisarius,

    Thank you very much for the additional explanation.
    Yes, the girls were described as "ladies," but from a poor family.
    Their father was a veterinarian surgeon, and passed away some years ago, leaving a small amount of annuity for their mother who became a widow.

    Then, if they were poor, is it more likely that they went to the Dame School rather than having a governess in their house?
    Was having a governess expensive back then...?
     

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    Yes, it certainly would mean they were unlikely to be able to afford a governess. The fact that their father was dead makes a big difference to their situation. Dame schools were usually in the teacher's house - that would account for the term homely.
    There's a school called 'Dame Allan's' in my home city. Of course it is a regular school these days like any other.
    "Dame Allan's Schools were founded in 1705 by Dame Eleanor Allan to provide a 'proper education' for boys and girls in Newcastle."
     
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    Tea Addict

    Senior Member
    Republic of Korea Korean
    Dear Hermione Golightly,

    Thank you very much for the additional explanation.
    Then the term "schoolmistress" would mean a female teacher in a dame school.

    It is great to know a piece of history about the Victorian England.
    I sincerely appreciate your help. :)
     

    Tea Addict

    Senior Member
    Republic of Korea Korean
    Dear Chasint,

    Thank you very much for the explanation.
    So "homely" does not have a derogatory meaning here, but rather, it is intended to indicate the schoolmistress' warm personality and appearance.
    I sincerely appreciate your help. :)
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    I'd interpret "homely" here as meaning "rather more of a mother figure than a professional school teacher", but that's just my opinion.
     
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