Deborah Yaffe


By Deborah Yaffe, Jun 6 2013 01:00PM

It’s ironic that the British charter school in the news this week for its plans to abolish homework is named after Jane Austen. Austen’s own schooling consisted of almost nothing but homework.

Her two years of formal education began in the spring of 1783, when, at age seven, she was sent away to boarding school with her beloved older sister, Cassandra, and their cousin Jane Cooper. Their school, run by Jane Cooper’s aunt, Ann Cawley, was originally located in Oxford but soon moved to the port city of Southampton, where sailors from around the world brought germs back to England with them.

The Austen sisters and Jane Cooper fell ill with a fever, possibly typhus. Their mothers – summoned by young Jane Cooper herself, not by their hapless schoolmistress – nursed them back to health, but Jane Cooper’s mother caught the infection and died. Thus did Jane Austen’s first few months of formal education come close to depriving the world of every one of her novels.

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