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Women writers and images of women (BL2-L8)

Lecture 8 in British Literature 2 Course

Irena Księżopolska

on 13 December 2013

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Transcript of Women writers and images of women (BL2-L8)

The Fallen Woman
Mary Barton
Mary is being educated through suffering, learning modesty and chastity through the tragedy of the murder committed by her father, her lover's false accusation and her father's death - achieving depth of character through self-sacrifice.
Tess of the d'Ubervilles
Tess as a pure-hearted maiden, passive, beautiful, virtuous though tainted by the painful experience of sin.
Mary Barton
Tess of the d'Ubervilles
Perceived as a seductress (Tess = temptress) by Alec - even though she does not want to entice him, there is still this danger of being the object of temptation to others.
The Mill on the Floss
Written and published in 1860
The Angel in the House
Images of Women
Victorian prototypes
Her downfall is brought about both through her passivity (affair with Alec) and her passionate nature (deceit of Angel and murder of Alec).
Female Struggle
Female Authorship
Bleak House
Lady Dedlock is the most fascinating character of the novel.
Bleak House
Esther - the ideal woman
Uncomplainingly submits to the harsh and hypocritical treatment by Angel, accepting his disgust as something deserved by her. Doesn't seem to hate even Alec, who wrecks her life, though her relations with him are often fraught with violence.
Appears ready to sacrifice her life to Angel. Never notices that his physical appearance has changed, continues to love him unconditionally.
She is always concerned about taking proper care of her father, even when he mistreats her.
She is also willing to meekly endure her mother's in law dislike for the sake of her lover.
Once she realizes what her feelings are, she continues to modestly keep silent about it - never speaking before being spoken to (until it becomes critical for his survival, and the sacrifice of modesty is excused by the danger to his life).
Modest, kind, angelically patient, willing to be taught by the Man in her life.
Always happily busy, a perfect housekeeper making sure that the Master of the House is made comfortable.
Not neglecting to aid the poor, and always happy to take care of children, who adore her.
Mary has to suffer because she allows herself dreams which are too ambitious.
Esther is damaged beyond repair through her lack of restraint - has to die tragically, without even the benefit of care from her loved ones.
Sally - the temptress of Mary - is portrayed as totally evil.
The Icon
Woman as morally superior to man
woman as responsible not only for man's physical comfort, but also spiritual well-being
Woman as the Heart of the household ("the household machine"), whose most important duties are those of a wife and mother
Home was regarded as a safe haven, where the men could find relief from the turmoil of the public life.
Tess is not only a deceiver but also a murderess, yet Hardy demands sympathy for her from his readers.
Even though she is damaged beyond repair and has to die, her death seems to redeem her.
It is because she is such an admirable personality that she attracts the attention of Mr. Tulkinghorn which eventually brings about her downfall (as well as his murder).
Purity has nothing to do with real Character...
The conventional Victorian women are hardly interesting, and rather insipid and annoying at worst. They lack substance and reality of a fully developed character.
It is the tragedy of woman's fate makes her worthy of her author's attention, allowing her also to seduce the readers into liking her in spite of all her faults.
And yet, a fallen woman may never be restored to the respectable society... Though she may be admired, she may not be forgiven.
The Victorian domestic interiors reflected this desire to withdraw from the chaos of the outside. The decorations included plush fabrics, heavy curtains and elaborate furnishings.
The Female Ideal
light, delicate, angelic beauty
perfectly charming: pleasant, easy but modest manners
attends to every wish of her husband / father
The ideal young lady is very accomplished: sings a little, plays the piano a little, draws a little, embroiders and makes lovely flower arrangements
marries young, while her husband can still shape her views
Even after the marriage the woman remains perfectly pure =
has no real knowledge of the world
Deviation from the Female Ideal
"She [the housewife] is the architect of home, and it depends on her skill, her foresight, her soft arranging touches whether it shall be the "lodestar to all hearts", or whether it shall be a house from which husband and children are glad to escape either to the street, the theatre, or the tavern."
The Christian Miscellany and Family Visitor, 1890
"Marriage signified a woman's maturity and respectability, but motherhood was confirmation that she had entered the world of womanly virtue and female fulfillment. For a woman not to become a mother meant she was liable to be labeled inadequate, a failure or in some way abnormal."
takes perfect care of the home and is beloved by the children
"when a woman's talent is at zero, journalistic approbation is at the boiling pitch; when she attains mediocrity, it is already at no more than summer heat; and if she ever reaches excellence, critical enthusiasm drops to the freezing point." (George Eliot)
"lady writers" as a class of its own, judged differently from the male authors and linked with topics which were restricted to domestic scene, and thus limited, unimportant.
Brontë sisters
George Eliot
Mary Elizabeth Braddon
Elizabeth Gaskell
What can a woman know?
defined by the male expectations
Man must be pleased; but him to please
Is woman's pleasure; down the gulf
Of his condoled necessities
She casts her best, she flings herself.
How often flings for nought, and yokes
Her heart to an icicle or whim,
Whose each impatient word provokes
Another, not from her, but him;
While she, too gentle even to force
His penitence by kind replies,
Waits by, expecting his remorse,
With pardon in her pitying eyes;
And if he once, by shame oppress'd,
A comfortable word confers,
She leans and weeps against his breast,
And seems to think the sin was hers;
Or any eye to see her charms,
At any time, she's still his wife,
Dearly devoted to his arms;
She loves with love that cannot tire;
And when, ah woe, she loves alone,
Through passionate duty love springs higher,
As grass grows taller round a stone.
Coventry Patmore
Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell: writing under androgynous pen names to avoid criticism focused on female identity of the authors
An actress under the stage name of Mary Seyton
writing and publishing poems under the same pseudonym
Living with a married man, writing sensational fiction
Publishing her first novel anonymously
Later becoming known as "Mrs. Gaskell"
Mostly recognized in her times as the writer of domestic fiction
Now appreciated mostly for her portrayal of social evils in the age of industrialization
"A true lady should, more than all other things, take the greatest care not to wound the feelings of anybody. We meet in society for our mutual pleasure, but want of thought and good feeling often cause mortification and pain to others. Men are even more sensitive about trifles than women imagine... A woman has in her own hands the power of making men treat her with friendly kindness and simple courtesy, which honours them in giving and she in receiving." ("Etiquette for Ladies and Girls, 1880)
1839 - Child Custody Act (now possible for a mother to be given custody of her children under seven)
1847, 1850 - Factory Acts (women and children restricted to 10&1/2-hour day)
1848 - First women's college: Queen's College, London, established for women who intend to teach
1852 - Judge rules that a man may not force his wife to live with him
1853 - Queen Victoria given chloroform during childbirth
1857 - Matrimonial Causes Act (legally separated wife given the right to keep what she earns; man may divorce wife for adultery, whereas wife must prove adultery aggravated by cruelty or desertion)
1864 - Contagious Diseases Acts also 1866 and 1869 — women living in certain garrison towns liable to be declared prostitutes and forcibly examined for venereal disease)
1870 - First Married Woman's Property Act
1918 - Voting Act (Enfranchised all men over 21, and all women over 30)
1928 - Equal Franchise Act (Equal voting rights for both men and women)
Millicent Garrett Fawcett
Lydia Becker
Emmeline Pankhurst
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
Mary Wollstonecraft
Used a male pen name to insure that her writings would be treated seriously
Lived with a Married man for over 20 years
1859 - publication of Adam Bede, a huge popular success
1860 - The Mill on the Floss
1861 - Silas Marner
1863 - Romola
1866 - Felix Holt, the Radical
1871–72 - Middlemarch
1876 - Daniel Deronda
"opinions are a poor cement between human souls: and the only effect I ardently long to produce by my writings is that those who read them should be better able to imagine and to feel the pains and the joys of those who differ from themselves in everything but the broad fact of being struggling, erring, human creatures."
Maggie Tulliver
Tom Tulliver
Stephen Guest
Philip Wakem
Lucy Deane
"She thought it was part of the hardship of her life that there was laid upon her the burthen of larger wants than others seemed to feel – that she had to endure this wide hopeless yearning for that something, whatever it was, that was greatest and best on this earth.”
"But if Maggie had been that young lady, you would probably have known nothing about her: her life would have had so few vicissitudes that it could hardly have been written; for the happiest women, like the happiest nations, have no history.”
Patient, generally tolerant, deeply sympathetic narrative voice
Omniscient narrator who intimately knows the characters and can understand them better than they themselves
Highly moral stance, pushing the readers to delve beneath the appearances of goodness and beauty to the essence of character
A wide panorama of life in a small town, cutting through all levels of society
Careful orchestration of characters who are connected with each other in various ways.
A Buildings Roman: a novel of development, following the gradual evolution of the central characters
attention to underlying motives
1851 - Assistant editor of the Westminster Review
careful tracing of the intellectual and emotional evolution of the characters (for better or for worse)
Intimate knowledge of the character's inner life
"the little darling" - the perfect Victorian girl: kind, gentle, pretty, accomplished, mild and trusting and forgiving, occupied in helping others, pampered by her friends and lovers... and not too intelligent
agonizingly painful choices define the character
concern with provincial society, satire of human motives, focus on courtship
"my function is that of the aesthetic and not doctrinal teacher"
P. Poplawski, English Literature in Context
G. Eliot, Life and Letters: The Works of George Eliot
Victorian Web, http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/eliot/index.html
Lynn Abrams, Ideas of Womanhood in Victorian Britain (http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/trail/victorian_britain/women_home/ideals_womanhood_01.shtml)
Virginia Woolf, "George Eliot"
Kathryn Hughes, "Rereading: George Eliot's Mill on the Floss", The Guardian, Saturday 27 March 2010 (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/mar/27/eliot-mill-floss-biography-tulliver)
John Sutherland, "How Good an Oarswoman is Maggie Tulliver?" in The Literary Detective, Oxford: 2000, pp. 373-380
"Tom's strong will bound together with his integrity, his pride, his family regrets, and his personal ambition, and made them one force, concentrating his efforts and surmounting discouragements... A character at unity with itself - that performs what it intends, subdues every counteracting impulse, and has no visions beyond the distinctly possible - is strong by its very negations."
A sensitive soul, an artist, physically deformed but noble, though weak and feminine.
character and destiny
filial love vs. romantic love
ambition vs. talent
"a rather striking young man of five-and-twenty, with a square forehead, short dark-brown hair standing erect with a slight wave at the end like a thick crop of corn, and half-ardent, half-sarcastic glance from under his well marked horizontal eyebrows."
"A man likes his wife to be pretty; well, Lucy was pretty, but not to a maddening extent. A man likes his wife to be accomplished, gentle, affectionate, and not stupid; and Lucy had all these qualifications... besides, he had had to defy and overcome a slight unwillingness and disappointment in his father and sisters, a circumstance which gives a young man an agreeable consciousness of his own dignity... He meant to choose Lucy; she was a little darling and exactly the sort of woman he had always most admired."
"Philip had never been soothed by that mother's love... Kept aloof from all practical life as Philip had been, and by nature half feminine in sensitiveness, he had some of the woman's intolerant repulsion towards worldliness and the deliberate pursuit of sensual enjoyment... Perhaps there is inevitably something morbid in a human being who is in any way unfavourably excepted from ordinary conditions until the good force has had time to triumph; and it has rarely had time for that at two-and-twenty. That force was present in Philip in much strength, but the sun himself looks feeble through the morning mists."
Maggie seems to be a modern-day erring saint, denied scope and field of action - wasted in her restricted domestic circumstances. What she needs is action, and this is precisely what she cannot have.
Unrealized potential
Her image stands apart from the convenient binary prototypes of sweet domestic angels / demonic seductresses - there is a more individual touch to it, though she seems to represent some generalized notion of womanhood, with her need for love and hungry, grasping soul.
Her tragedy is linked with her character, but not in the way of exposing her "fatal flaw" - her need for love is at the core of her troubles, and her passionate purity does not save her from her doom...
The flood seems to be one of those plot devices that solves the unsolvable muddle of the characters' lives in an artificial way, yet it is carefully foreshadowed throughout the narrative, preparing the reader for what is to come
Some events in the plot are foreshadowed: Maggie's elopement with Stephen (the dark girl winning over the blond girl)
A self-confident, strong, handsome man - rather conceited and selfish.
Strong, obstinate, domineering and unforgiving, though noble and honest.
"Lucy put up the neatest little rosebud mouth to be kissed; everything about her was neat,–her little round neck, with the row of coral beads; her little straight nose, not at all snubby; her little clear eyebrows, rather darker than her curls, to match hazel eyes"
"Lucy had so much of this benevolence in her nature that I am inclined to think her small egoisms were impregnated with it... Even now, that she is walking up and down with a little triumphant flutter of her girlish heart at the sense that she is loved by the person of chief consequence in her small world, you may see in her hazel eyes an ever-present sunny benignity, in which the momentary harmless flashes of personal vanity are quite lost; and if she is happy in thinking of her lover, it is because the thought of him mingles readily with all the gentle affections and good-natured offices with which she fills her peaceful days... She was fond of feeding dependent creatures, and knew the private tastes of all the animals about the house, delighting in the little rippling sounds of her canaries when their beaks were busy with fresh seed..."
The Aunts
Comic element of the book: family peculiarities, thriftiness, fussiness, essential kindness
Do you remember Elizabeth Bennet's discussion with Mr. Darcy and Ms. Bingley on the subject?
"To come with a well−informed mind is to come with an inability of administering to the vanity of others, which a sensible person would always wish to avoid. A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can."
(Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey)
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