Broadening their horizons outside the classroom

Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.
–Oscar Wilde

Those of you who have been paying attention know that  the Outside Girls are smart. But we have not really discussed the nature of their intelligence or the education that they seek. Oftentimes these girls excel in school and other traditional academic settings. However, they also have the potential to supplement their learning through slightly less orthodox outlets. Case in point: Rory Gilmore of Gilmore Girls and Jenny Mellor of An Education:


These two Outside Girls have more in common than their prep school/plaid skirt experiences; they are also two women who not only extracted themselves from the social scene, the took themselves out of the stereotypical type of schooling. Their intelligence is integral to their characters, and that means they have capacity to learn from themselves.

Before you superfans argue with me, I’ll cop to this: Yes, Rory Gilmore attended fictional (I hope) Chilton and Yale. She was seemingly on the beaten path. But consider this. Rory learns a lot from her classes and instructors, but I would argue that she learns even more on her own. If you ever feel you need to bolster your own brain power, just try to keep up with her reading list. Rory is more social than most of the other women on this blog, but she does remove herself from her peers, especially when she reads. As Anna Viola Sborgi notes, “the experience of reading is very private for Rory, who uses canonical examples of high literature to forge an identity and shape a world of her own, one that might seem detached from the more tangible world of face-to-face social relations.” Rory is wholly dedicated to her formal education, but she has made an even bigger commitment to herself. As her allusion-packed graduation speech emphasizes, Rory learns just as much from her bookworm tendencies as she does from Chilton.

Switching gears from Rory’s literary prowess, Jenny of An Education learns on her own in a different way: she grows up. In the course of one movie, she has sex for the first time, becomes engaged, travels abroad, goes to a dog track and realizes that people are often not what they appear to be. Of course, she only aims to go to Paris, experience culture, music and art, and lose her virginity. But her education consists of more than that.

If you think that she is a passive bystander in this situation, you should think again. As A.O. Scott describes in his review of the movie, “[Jenny] is deliberately and systematically…seeking out what the vestigial Victorianism of her era would see as ruin.” She rejects (at least for a little while) her traditional education, her family, her socioeconomic class, her friends and their ideologies (including the whole pure-as-the-driven-snow thing). Jenny follows the mysterious, charming and creepy David to new experiences and new forms of learning. When she finds out that David is not the man she thought him to be, she returns to her life and her original goal: Oxford. Like Rory, Jenny does fill the role of the quintessential smart student, prestigious university and all. But she also values educating herself through travel, art, adventure, sex and what she thinks is love. Oh, and the coolest beehive-and-dress ensemble since Marge Simpson:

These two characters take the initiative to break with their peers and formal education in order to teach themselves. Their patterns and interests are somewhat different, but their outcomes are the same: school is great and but learning on your own is better.

(Image #1 courtesy of; #2 courtesy of; #3 courtesy of

5 thoughts on “Broadening their horizons outside the classroom

  1. Let’s hear it for the autodidacts!! Awesome post, Rachel. So, you know what’s bothering me lately? Just as you parenthetically note about Jenny in An Education–“She rejects (at least for a little while) her traditional education, her family, her socioeconomic class, her friends, and their ideologies…”–it seems that many outside girls eventually (or often, just after college) veer right back to the constrained path they were groomed for all along (with the fiercely independent phase/streak/moment shelved as a diversion). I’m always vaguely disappointed by this because I want to believe that this kind of self-directed, savvy wisdom in girlhood and early adulthood will endure and will shape women to carve out some new paths (new ways of being a smart, creative, independent female adult). Seems to me that many of the Rorys and Jennys often become indistinguishable from the peers they broke away from in fewer than ten years (in manner, vocation, priorities, style, aspirations…).

    1. I know exactly what you mean. Before researching and writing about Rory and Jenny, I was torn about whether they were even really outside girls. After all, they go right back to their conventional plans after their short rebellions. And I realized, like you, that might be another sign of an outside girl. They break away from their peer group during high school or college, but find that they can fit right back in. It’s almost as though they are getting a creative/unorthodox fit out of their systems. There are a few exceptions to this (Daria and Enid come to mind), but for the most part outside girls do not grow up to be outside women. It’s almost as if what makes them misfits in adolescence also lets them be well-adjusted adults.

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