How could a woman of the 21st Century possibly ask a woman of the 18th Century how to bring up girls? And expect an answer? But when you look into the crystal glass atmosphere of the Austen Six some answers can be assembled .
Genuine-Girl-Catherine Morland, the naïve young teenager in Northanger Abbey is a terrific young heroine on the cusp of adulthood, ready to take on life’s challenges. Austen tells us that as a child Catherine:
“was fond of all boys’ plays, and greatly preferred cricket not merely to dolls, but to the most heroic enjoyment of infancy, nursing a dormouse, feeding a canary bird, or watering a rose bush”.
Catherine Morland was a tomboy and as such she enjoyed the type of childhood that it appears Jane herself enjoyed; a free spirited childhood not restricted by gender. (Although once the real world with all its expectations encroached this changed as Jane grew older.)
Perhaps the answer of how to bring up girls is to allow girls (and boys) to enjoy the natural world and be free of stereotypes just like Catherine Moreland. We need to go back to basics: Let our children play outside. Now that the cars have taken over the roads we need to create parks and gardens for our children to play in so that they are not confined to the strictly gendered toys that our society, or at least our marketing departments, seem to revel in. We need to give our children aspects of an Austen childhood where the imagination can run free as the children run wild out on the green. It seems so simple but it is about creating space space to dream, create, experiment or just to be.