Monday, September 16, 2019

English Literature: The Novel Essay

The depiction of a woman as an emancipated slave has been traditional to Victorian literary period. Numerous novels and literary works were written in the form of a female gender scream, which did not change a woman’s position in the then society, but on the contrary, confirmed the unchanging social prejudices towards women. Gender identities and the related social issues have become the central elements of the two novels: Eliza Haywood’s â€Å"Fantomina† and Wilkie Collins’s â€Å"The Woman in White†. The two novels have shown that the social structure of the Victorian society did not give any space for free expression of the female gender identity. Moreover, by crossing the boundaries of the appropriate behaviour, women did not revive their female gender identity, but doomed themselves to social and spiritual failure. The two novels discuss the female prominence in the face of social threats, which usually appeared in the form of gender prejudices, norms, and gender threats. No matter, what a woman could be, â€Å"The Woman in White† and â€Å"Fantomina† prove the irresistible female striving towards self-identification. It seems that both Collins and Haywood show, how women of the Victorian society were trying to preserve their inner world, the female identity, and their female â€Å"face†, even when that face had to be hidden under masquerade masks. â€Å"Through the use of masquerade and deception, many of Haywood’s characters freely give up their virtue, while others hold strong to it, making them vulnerable and subject to greater consequences. † Self-identification and masquerade initially seem the two incompatible elements. However, such combination makes the female struggle for their self-identification even more arduous and painful. The Victorian society puts a woman in a position, in which masquerade serves the best saviour from the pressured reality: the reality pressured by norms, prejudices, and increasing male domination. Among the middle classes, patterns of employment, with the increasing separation of home and working environment, and the rise of commuting, together with the consolidation of the assumption that a male head of a household should be able to provide for the female members of his family, without them having to take paid work, contributed to the establishment of clearly demarcated leisure time and space for both women and men† (Flint 2001, 19) However, while male dominance and male financial superiority gave men excessive freedom and sufficient space for exercising their leisure desires, women were totally deprived of such freedom rights. â€Å"The Woman in White† and â€Å"Fantomina† are the two stories â€Å"of what a Woman’s patience can endure, and what a Man’s resolution can achieve. † The unbearable strength of the female character, imagination, and inventiveness strike the reader. The masquerade and the male desire to deprive a woman of the already lost identity becomes a revelation for the contemporary reader. The use of masquerade, deception, pain, and suffering leads a woman to the situation, when she is no longer able to distinguish the truth from lies, but where she continues challenging gender and social hierarchies. â€Å"The narrative space presents a struggle for authority that ultimately reaffirms the social and institutional status quo. Those individuals who threaten and transgress conventional boundaries of law, narrative, and gender are punished. † On the one hand, such striving to re-affirm social female authority does not lead to any positive consequences. On the other hand, women in Victorian novels exhibit their preoccupation with their real social position and the opportunities they possess to change this position. â€Å"She no sooner heard he left the Town, than making Pretence to her Aunt, that she was going to visit a relation in the Country, went towards Bath, attended by two Servants, who she found Reasons to quarrel with on the Road and discharg’d: Clothing herself in a Habit she had brought with her, she forsook the Coach, and went into a Waggon, in which Equipage she arriv’d at Bath† (Haywood 2004, 65) The two novels re-affirm the discussed struggle for authority in the two different forms: while Fantomina uses masquerade as the means to confirm her superiority over Beauplaisir, Collins’s woman herself becomes the victim of such masquerading male ambitions: â€Å"What had I done? Assisted the victim of the most horrible of all false imprisonments to escape; or case loose on the wide world of London an unfortunate creature, whose actions it was my duty, and every man’s duty, mercifully to control? † This scream of conscience has actually become the expression of the unfortunate and unbearable social position of a woman. To mercifully control – that was the task of the Victorian society in terms of every woman. Patriarchal traditions have led the women of the Victorian age to the most false and horrible imprisonments which a society could create: that imprisonment appeared in the form of societal dominance over female identity in general, and over the behaviour of separate married and unmarried women, in particular. Although Eliza Haywood implies that unmarried women are especially vulnerable to societal attitudes towards them, Wilkie Collins refutes this idea and shows that a married woman is very likely to lose her spiritual authenticity under the pressure of male dominant influence. Even despite the never-ending way to gender freedom, women in these two novels face the wall of misunderstanding and never changing social attitudes. It seems that by reading both novels, we create an objective picture of what a woman could be in Victorian society. A woman could either choose the pathway of social struggle, or to become a victim of this struggle between men. It seems that both authors were trying to reassure their readers in that the described events and the described gender struggles had nothing to do with their Victorian reality. By punishing their women for what they wanted to achieve, Haywood and Collins tried to decrease the significance of their writing, and to show the prevalence of social identity over personal feelings and thoughts of women. Masquerade and madness – these are the two identical lines, which Haywood and Collins exercise to prove their righteousness, and not to be blamed for being too open with their readers. Madness and masquerade – these identical lines lead women to their ultimate moral and spiritual failure, which re-defines their social position and shows that any â€Å"mad† desire to break social norms cannot lead to anything good. â€Å"The rifled charms of Fantomina soon lost their Poignancy, and grew tasteless and insipid; and when the Season of the Year inviting the Company to the Bath, she offer’d to accompany him, he made an Excuse to go without her. † Fantomina’s masquerading attempts and plans ultimately lead her to losing her virtue, but she acquires a new feeling of something inevitable in her life. Masquerade for Fantomina becomes a double failure, expressed in continued disguise which gradually becomes insipid, and in awarding Fantomina â€Å"with Child. † The masquerade has not certainly been the best solution to protect Fantomina from losing her identity, although in many instances, such masquerade has been the only means to be herself. Byrd writes that â€Å"The game could not go on forever, because it began with deceit. Perhaps if the heroine had seduced Beauplaisir under different circumstances with her honour and virtue still in tact, they would have been able to live happily under the confines of marriage. † (738) However, in this passage Byrd either lies to herself, or appears extremely subjective in her judgments. First of all, Fantomina had no other way but to initiate her love affair with Beauplaisir through deceit. Victorian society did not forgive freedom of behaviour and gender expression by unmarried women. Second, although Haywood implies that true love cannot be founded on disguise and lies, the society did not give Fantomina any other chance to conquer Beauplaisir. Third, by suggesting that a marriage could become a glorious opportunity for Fantomina, Byrd initially denies the irreversible consequences a marriage could bring to a woman, as in case with Collin’s â€Å"The Woman in White. † Marriage, about which Byrd writes, in Collin’s plot serves the role of â€Å"managing women’s minds who in different ways stand as figures of deviance and transgression; and in doing so, it offers to Collins’s more conventional readers a reassuring reestablishment of the social order and woman’s place within it. † What has Marian achieved by writing to Laura’s lawyer to inform about Persival’s and Fosco’s plot? What has Marian achieved by taking over the partially masculine features of being less passive, more mobile, and significantly more decisive in her actions? The reader may approve her for holding sufficient courage to fight against the societal circumstances, but the reality proves the opposite. Although Marian is confident that â€Å"Laura’s life itself might depend† on her â€Å"quick ears and faithful memory† , the Victorian society does not give Marian a reliable chance to prove her abilities and the right to exercise her gender identity to the fullest. Her diary (a textual expression) and her body and soul (spiritual expression) are severely punished as soon as she leaves her home and transgresses â€Å"the boundaries of the appropriate behaviour. † Marian’s behaviour and empty strivings again and again re-affirm the position which Haywood took in her Fantomina, and which Collins was initially trying to take in his â€Å"The Woman in White. † Victorian society does not forgive such trespassing. The punishment for breaking the boundaries of the socially appropriate behaviour may take various forms, from false asylum imprisonment, to pregnancy or illness. Marian’s eyes become â€Å"large and wild, and looking at me with a strange terror in them [†¦] pain and fear and grief written on her as with a brand. † In the light of Victorian orthodox traditions of gender identity, Marian may appear an unwomanly woman. Even when the sound of pen’s scraping is replaced by the sound of dress’ rustling, the society does not grant Marian with feminine identity anymore. It becomes evident that as soon as a woman dares to pass the limits of the usual female behaviour she is forever tied to new stereotypes, and has no chance to return to her previous realities. Simultaneously, none of the women described by Haywood and Collins displays any slight desire to again become â€Å"nothing but a woman, condemned to patience, propriety, and petticoats for life. † Conclusion Collins ends his novel with the spirit of â€Å"a good woman† which Marion represents. Her painful transformation asserts the status quo of Victorian gender traditions, and the social weakness of a woman who decides to break them. It is very probable, that both Collins and Haywood display a growing concern of what a woman could be if a man left her â€Å"to act as the pleased. † Collins and Haywood evidently fail to lead their women to the victory of their gender identities, and seem to choose another way as soon as each of the female characters reaches â€Å"the middle of the bridge†. Both novels start with the encouraging desire to prove that society is tragically and disastrously wrong in depriving women of their social and spiritual identity. Both show female strength and endurance in the face of the threats, which the Victorian society could pose on them. The novels reflect a similar â€Å"kind of tension between an identification with transgressive figures who challenge social conventions and a distinct uneasiness about the full economic and legal empowerment of those resolute women who so attracted men. † (Byrd 1997, 737) With the development of each novel’s plot, both authors become explicitly troubled with what consequences the freedom of female identity can cause. Certainly, Collins and Haywood have succeeded in depicting their women as pressured by the irrelevant and unnecessary societal norms. Simultaneously, they have created an impression of the inevitability of social punishment for breaking the boundaries of the appropriate social norms. By reading both novels, the reader acquires full understanding of what a woman had to experience and to endure under the pressure of Victorian male dominance. Despite the fact, that Haywood initially judges and sympathises with the social position of an unmarried woman, the life of a married woman in Collin’s view appears no better than that of Fantomina, who has lost her virtue before being bound by any socially meaningful marriage ties. Both authors have successfully shown the inevitable inequality of social position between men and women in Victorian era: Laura, Marian, and Fantomina are the three victims of excessive societal control over their true female identities. BIBLIOGRAPHY Byrd, A. â€Å"Eliza Haywood: The Rise of the Woman Novelist and Her Response to Feminine Desire Through the Form of the Masquerade. † The Modern Language Review 92, no. 3 (1997): 734-39. Collins, W. The Woman in White. Oxford World’s Classics. Oxford Paperbacks, 1998. Craft, Catherine A.â€Å"Reworking Male Models: Aphra Behn’s â€Å"fair Vow-Breaker†, Eliza Haywood’s â€Å"Fantomina†, and Charlotte Lennox’s â€Å"Female Quixote†. The Modern Language Review 86, no. 4 (1991): 821-38. Flint, K. â€Å"The Victorian Novel and Its Readers. † In D. Deirdre ed. , 17-36. The Cambridge Companion to the Victorian Novel, Cambridge: CUP, 2001. Gaylin, A. â€Å"The Madwoman Outside the Attic: Eavesdropping and Narrative Agency in ‘The Woman in White’ (Critical essay)†. Texas Studies in Literature and Language 43, no. 2 (2001): 304-33. Haywood, E. Fantomina and other works. Broadview Press Ltd, Canada, 2004.

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