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Monday, January 11, 2010

A Proper Education for Girls

Di Rollo, Elaine.  A Proper Education for Girls.  

The Talbot twins, Alice and Lillian, are raised by their domineering, but easily distracted father.  The girls are educated by reading and writing (at their father's insistence) about items in his bizarre and varied Collection which includes suits of armor, modern farming equipment, synchronized grandfather clocks, fossilized sea creatures, a stuffed grizzly bear, Napoleonic swords, mechanical inventions, butterfly collections, bronze statues, a machine that peels 60 apples simultaneously, Greek pottery, and much, more more. 

The huge estate is overcrowded with items of archaeological, natural history, geologic, botanic, artistic, or cultural interest.  Not a simple Cabinet of Curiosities (which was really a room), but an entire huge house has turned into an uncategorized museum, and this museum provides the basic education of Alice and Lillian.

When the books opens, however, a disgraced Lillian has been forced to marry a missionary and accompany him to India.  Alice misses her sister terribly, but her father refuses to let Alice's letters leave the house and allows little mail from Lillian to enter (and only after he has read it).  He also begins to question the girls' education, and prodded by the advice of the loathsome Dr. Cattermole, ponders an unthinkable solution that would change Alice's independent personality into a more submissive one.

Lillian, who is grateful to have escaped in spite of the circumstances, loves India and begins to thrive.  When Alice finally manages to interpret a coded message from Lillian, she, too, begins to hope for escape.

Set in 1857, the chapters alternate between Alice's adventures in England and Lillian's adventures in India.  The book provides some interesting takes on the life of women in Victorian England, scientific advances, Colonial life in India, and the Indian rebellion.

I enjoyed the book, eagerly returning to it, but found the conclusion hurried and not fully satisfying.

(I particularly enjoyed the Aunts!)

Fiction.  Adventure/Women's Rights/Historical.  2009.  354 pages.


  1. I have a copy of this checked out from the library at the moment, but I'm waiting a bit to read it. It sounds too similar to the premise for East of the Sun, which I read not too long ago.

  2. I'll bear in mind your reservation about the ending - mainly this sounds like a really fun book! I love this time period in British & Indian history.

  3. lesley - I haven't read East of the Sun, but just pulled it up on Amazon, and it sounds interesting! I'll check your review before adding it to my list. The time periods are very different, but I always find India fascinating.

    Jenny - The style has a Victorian touch, and the author also makes quite clear the absurdity of some Victorian sentiments and treatment of women.

  4. This sounds so good! Can you imagine what a shock it must have been for sheltered Victorian women to all of a sudden go to India? Different culture, weather, everything...

  5. Iliana - Right, the adjustments both physically and emotionally must have tremendous--and there was no such thing as air conditioning. Can you imagine living in that heat dressed in Victorian women's clothing?

    Lillian, however, adapted quickly and took advantage of the increased freedom of being away from her father.