Friday, 18 March 2016

'Reader I Did Not Marry Him (To Start With)!'

                                     Figure 1: "Debutants waiting to be presented" 

How many times have you said “no” to something in the last day, couple of days or a week? How many of these were on trivial things, over things such as ‘have you started your coursework or blog? or ‘would you like some of these sweets?’ A fair few times I bet. How many of these choices have impacted your life to a greater extent? 

Say, If you were to have someone propose to you who you’ve known a grand total of two meetings, would you accept? No judgements would come from many if you said no to that. 

Put yourself in the shoes of your 14 year old self again, the days when you would say ‘no’ if your parents wanted you to come off the internet because of school early in the morning. Often with you saying why (or rather shouting ‘WHY’) and with a sharp reply of ‘BECAUSE I SAID SO’.  Now think about going into secondary school and having a guy/girl you’re not even friends with, come up to you after being in your class for 2 weeks, asking to marry you. Not many would say yes. I know these are different times, and call for different expectations of marriage, but these were the conditions of some heroines in novels and indeed the reality for young children (in particular girls) of the Victorian Period (1837-1901). This was possibly due to low life expectancy and the need for security in later life. It certainly was not socially expectable for these women to refuse the marriages they were given. If so, they faced questions and were ostracised by people in society for thinking too much of themselves and their marriages. How would parents reason for their decision at your husband or wife? Because THEY said so. 

The inequality in marriages are arguably still present in situations/cultures today. In the Victorian Period, however, a bride, had, for example, according to Helena Wojtczak, all her property owned absolutely by her husband, and he could dispose of this how he pleased. She did not even get it back when he died, another example is that married mothers had no rights and even the children belonged to the husband and father. Even in the event of the marriage breaking down she could not apply for a divorce, only he could based on adultery or ‘unreasonable behaviour’. Arguably, a young bride was open to more manipulation by her husband. This takes me on to the age of marriages during the period. I was shocked to discover that, according to Michelle Hoppe, until 1823, the legal age in England for marriage was 21 years for BOTH males and females. After 1823, a male could marry as young as 14 years without parental consent, and a girl at 12 years. Most girls, however, married between the ages of 18 and 23 years, especially in the upper classes.

Taking this idea of young people, in particular young women, gaining marriage proposals, Anna Jackson with Charles Ferrall, in their book and subsequent study, Juvenile Literature and British Society, 1850-1950: The Age of Adolescence, argue that ‘the Victorians could be credited with "inventing" adolescence.’ This adolescence, I would interpret as being a kind of time where morals would be instilled on their minds through lessons being learnt and experiences (this is similar to the nature of Bildungsroman novels). This ‘idealised adolescence the Victorians invented are so radically unlike our concept of adolescence as to be unrecognisable’ say Jackson and Ferrall. 

They also suggest that in fiction of the period where there are female protagonists, ‘the marriage proposal is important in awakening the girl from a childhood innocence to an awareness of her adult sexuality, but, structurally, it has to be turned down in order for the novel to open up the space of adolescence as a space of self-determination, idealism and possibility.’ The heroines of the novels in question end up going on journeys, literal and figuratively as they grow up in the space between the two marriage proposals typically at the start and end of the books. 

This idea of ‘awakening the girl from a childhood innocence to an awareness of her adult sexuality’ could thus be explored in many instances and eras, from the fairytale stories we are read when we are young girls, where the young girls go through hardships and culminate in gaining marriage to a Prince Charming for example, but also the novels of the Victorian Period where the girls gain independence and reflection on the love they want. 

                                     Figure 2: Farmer Oak clumsily proposing to Bathsheba

Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, has its heroine Bathsheba Everdeen as being fiercely independent in the novel, who then gains her Uncle’s farm and goes to run it alone (even this is described as ‘a novel one, and the novelty had not yet begun to wear off p352’). Before she goes to do this she is offered Farmer Oak’s hand in marriage. She declines his hand and states that she ‘shouldn’t mind being a bride at a wedding, if i could be one without having a husband. (p84)’ This is quite revolutionary for the period, and arguably foolish it appears to Oak and probably readers of the time, with half thinking her stupid, and half probably admiring her independence.

Oak, upon leaving Bathsheba at one point in the novel asks her if she respects him, realising that mentioning ‘love’ to a fiercely independent Bathsheba would not go well, has this coy reply from Bathsheba, with her stating that: 

‘It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in a language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs. (954)’.

This, in itself could be seen no doubt be seen as protofeminist, and Hardy is showing the discrepancy between an abstract idea of love being seen as more feminine, but with only the masculine words used to describe it, with women not being seen as able to do so. Would you be expected these days to only speak about love through what your father or brother’s expressions? 
                                     Figure 3: St.John proposing to Jane Eyre (1997)

Charlotte Bronte’s, Jane Eyre is similar in its use of protofeministic values concerning marriage and choice, to an extent. Ignoring for now her failed marriage to Rochester, Jane is found on the Moors by St.John and his sisters. Taken back to their cottage, she makes a new identity for herself, which SHE importantly chooses, but in the end, she is subjected to an unwanted marriage proposal. She turns down St.John’s proposal, because she believes him to be cold and she is obviously still in love with Edward. His proposal lacks any kind of passionate displays, instead, he calls upon the reason that:
’God and nature intended you for a missionary’s wife… [With it being] not personal, but mental endowments they have given you… [and] not for love. A missionary’s wife you must—shall be. You shall be mine. I claim you— not for my pleasure, but for my Sovereign’s service. (917)’. 

Would you accept a proposal lacking in passion and romance, and would you be willing to be ‘claimed’- or would this put you off like it did Jane? 

Afterall, possibly because of this she states that… She will ‘give [her] heart to God… You [St.John] do not want it.’ (926). 

In these novels, it becomes apparent that there is a trend with the young women being offered marriage for very little love, and this is enough to make them decline. Love, through these bildungsroman novels, and arguably novels more catered toward the female readership, during the Victorian Period for instance, stick a high regard to this notion of love being enough for women in marriage and the authors suggesting that they should settle for no less to become a grown up woman. 

Is this the case today, does love conquer all as suggested? Whereas a novel ends in marriage, a relationship in reality does not. There is no ‘… I married him’ as in Jane Eyre and that is where concerns end. Is a woman, after a said ‘marriage of equals’ really equal? 

Works Cited:

Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Public Domain, Jan 2011. Ibooks. Ebook. 

Hardy, Thomas. Far From the Madding Crowd. Public Domain, Jan 1874. Ibooks. Ebook.
Ferrall, Charles. Jackson, Anna. Juvenile Literature and British Society, 1850-1950: The Age of Adolescence (Children's Literature and Culture) Routledge. 29 Oct 2009. 

St. Andrew’s University. “Women and the Law in Victorian England”. Web. 18 March 2016

Wojtczac, Helena. “British Women's Emancipation since the Renaissance”. 2009. Web. 18 March 2016

Hoppe. J. Michelle. “Courting the Victorian Woman”. 1998. Web. 18 March 2016.

Images and Videos Cited: 

Figure 1. Fleming, R.S. ”Debutants waiting to be presented”. Online Image. “Coming Out” During the Early Victorian Era; about debutants”. 9 May 2012. 18 March 2016. Web. 

Figure 2. FoxSearchlight. FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD: “Lamb”. Youtube, 22 April 2015. Web. March 2016.

Figure 3. ITV Classics. St. John Asks Jane To Marry Him - Jane Eyre. Youtube, 12 July 2015. Web. 18 March 2016.

The 'Fallen Woman'.

The ‘Fallen Woman’.

The Victorian Era was one obsessed with social status, young women and their virtue. During this period the perfect picture of domesticity had been created.

It was found that if a woman was found to have given into temptation, thus losing her innocence, to any vice, she was categorised as ‘The Fallen Woman’. The ‘Fallen Woman’ is considered to be a complex term. The way in which it is known now, is that it was women who were placed at the bottom of society and treated as if they were the lowest of the low. Just because they gave into temptation and did not follow society’s rules, did they deserve to be treated as if they were less than human?

The  ‘Fallen Woman’ in Marriage

 Victorian England created the perfect picture for domesticity and marriage. It held perfect, devoted mothers and wives, hard working husbands and adorable children. The key figure for this being Queen Victoria. Her marriage to her husband was seen as the very staple of marriage as it had a large amount of love and respect.  However their marriage did not show the hidden, dark side of marriage. It exposed the double standards of men and women within Victorian society. It had been hidden for years but was supposedly accepted nonetheless.

The darker side of marriage was the hidden morals of the men and women within the marriage. Married men were having affairs as well as married women. The men were however able to escape the scandal of an affair mostly unscathed, the woman however was not. The wife would commonly be ostracized from the family home and society as a whole, earning the title of ‘The Fallen Woman’. Why was it one rule for men and another for women?

Figure 1: William Holman Hunt, 'The Awkaneing Conscience
Many of the married men that were in affairs, had two houses. One house had his wife and their children, whilst the other house would contain his mistress, and their love children if there were any.

Robert Browning subverts the role of the accepting, forgiving wife with his poem “The Laboratory”, the wife wishes to gain revenge on her husband and his lover “Which is the poison to poison her prithee?” (L. 4). She wonders which is the best poison to kill her husband’s mistress, which one would cause her the most pain. This wife was not one that should be messed with. She thought that they should pay for humiliating her in such a way that could not be forgotten. Would she become a fallen woman due to committing murder?

Figure 2: Augustus Leopold Egg, 'Past and Present, No. 3'
Anatomical museums were created in the hopes of  warning the public against illicit sex, they showed what genitalia of both sexes would look like once they had contracted a sexually transmitted disease. Even Mrs Beeton contracted syphilis on her honeymoon! It was though that she had contracted due to her husband having an affair.

Victorian literature was notorious for depictions of ‘The Fallen Woman’. Even in art she painted as  a desolate, hidden away in the dirty depths of the world. A 'Fallen Woman' is  typically presented as being mute and an enigmatic icon. She is an enigma because many would wonder what exactly caused her fall.

 The ‘New Woman’

Essentially the ‘Fallen Woman’ is seen as someone that could never be redeemed, this is evident in paintings and in some literature, as the ‘Fallen Woman’ nearly always dies. However there were ideas of the ‘New Woman’, coming around in Victorian England. A ‘New Woman’, was considered as someone who was able to indulge in sinful activities whilst not being openly judged for it. The ‘New Woman’ is seen as being part of the new world that Victorian England was going into. The ‘New Woman’ represented two things. One being a sign of promise, as in something good could have be happening. An example would be moving the desolate young ladies to Australia, they were able to start a new life leaving their old one behind. However a ‘New Woman’ also presented danger, they had the element of being mysterious. It was not known what could happen to these woman. Arabella in Thomas Hardy’s Jude The Obscure, is presented as a ‘New Woman’, she is a social climber. She commits acts that would have essentially classed her as a ‘Fallen Woman’, such as being promiscuous but is not judged for it and abandoning her child, she is still able to be part of society. She is not an outcast like many others were. Whereas Sue was treated as if she were a ‘Fallen Woman’, due to having children out of wedlock and separating from her husband.Why were the differences of how Sue and Arabella treated so vast?

Also in Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market, the girl is saved from committing sin due to her sister. It is her sister that stops her from eating anymore of the goblin’s fruit: “Would tell them how her sister stood,/ In deadly peril to do her good,/ And win the fiery antidote:/ Then joining hands to little hands/ Would bid them cling together,” (L. 557-561). It was the love of her sister and her sister’s determination that stopped Laura from going further into temptation.

Misconceptions of the ‘Fallen Woman’

The ‘Fallen Woman’ has fallen to misconception. In Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, the character Tess is a misinterpreted fallen woman. She was raped by her cousin and told no one of it. As a result when people have found out she is an outcast from everybody else. Regardless of the fact that she had been raped, Tess is classed as a ‘Fallen Woman’ and is seen as an outcast. Is it fair that she is an outcast over something that was beyond her control? However after telling her husband of her ordeal he claims to need ‘space’ to accept her news, whereas Tess was supposed to be fine with the fact that her husband had slept with many women before her.

Those categorised as a ‘Fallen Woman’, were treated in the most hideous ways. Their treatment highlighted the double standards that were held in Victorian society, it was one rule for men and another rule for women. Even now the differences between men and women is still vast. Compared to Victorian society what a ‘Fallen Woman’ was then, is different to what a ‘Fallen Woman’ would be now. In the modern era the term ‘Fallen Woman’ is mostly unheard of.  For example, if woman was to have a child out of wedlock now, she would not be viewed as ‘fallen’, she is still treated the same as before she had the child. How would you class a ‘Fallen Woman’?

 Works Cited

Auerbach, Nina. “The Rise of the Fallen Woman” Woman and the Demon: The Life of a Victorian Myth. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1982. 150-184, Print.

AQA GCSE English and English Literature Anthology. “The Laboratory”. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. 52-52, Print.

Milona Rikos, The Victorians Home Sweet Home BBC Documentary History. YouTube, 2015. Web. 15 March 2016.

Text of Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market’, ENG040C114Y. Web. 13 March 2016.

Winnifrith, Tom. “Hardy” Fallen Women in the Nineteenth-century Novel. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan, 1994. 113-131, Print.

Images Cited

Figure 1: Hunt, William Holman. “The Awakening Conscience”. TATE. 1853. Web. 16 March 2016.

Figure 2: Egg, Augustus Leopold. “Past and Present No. 3”. TATE. 1858. Web. 16 March 2016.