Stereotyping Women?

I firmly believe that, when writing a story, a writer does not make any final decisions about their story on a whim or fancy; it was done for a certain purpose through clear insight. In this case, considering the female characters Braddon has created along with their thoughts and treatment toward the other sex, she may be addressing the gender divide that was common between men and women at the time. However, are we meant to completely agree with everything that Braddon says in her book?

This divisive nature is noticeable through Robert’s point of view as the story goes on. He claims “to hate women” because of they are nothing more than “bold, brazen, abominable creatures, invented for the annoyance and destruction of their superiors” (229). As much as we may want to disagree with his viewpoint, within the context of the book, Robert is right. For example, Alicia comes off as very strong willed and at times childish, which interferes with any possible future courtships. She’s also dead-set on marrying Robert and refuses to consider anyone else. Such behavior, in the day and age of the book, was more than likely seen as unbecoming of a young woman of her class. Yet, are we meant to feel sorry for her at the same time?

We can also look at Phoebe, Lady Audley’s ex-personal maid. She snoops about and is able to dig up blackmail against her Lady and is made to later use this information to make Lady Audley pay her and her husband hush money for their bar and home. Sure, we are later made to feel sorry for her after her marriage, but her intention on discovering potential blackmail may not be so easily be forgotten nor forgiven.

Lastly, we can look toward Lady Audley and her own circumstances along with how she deals with each issue that comes her way. She uses her husband, Sir Michael, as heavy muscle to deal with any problems she doesn’t want to face head on. Furthermore, she is able to charm him into shamelessly doing whatever she wants with the right words and actions. Again, like Phoebe and Alicia, we may be able to feel sorry for her in the future, but for now, the probability of that happening seems very low.

Even more interesting, above all, is the fact that Braddon herself, using the voice of the narrator, seems to agree with Robert’s stance:

“Ah, Heaven help a strong man’s tender weakness for the woman he loves.                        Heaven pity him when the guilty creature has deceived him and comes with                        her tears and lamentations to through herself at his feet…Pity him, pity him.”                        (298).

So then, what is Braddon trying to accomplish through this negative viewpoint of women? Are we simply meant to take this idea with a grain of salt because of the genre of the work? Or, are we meant to sit down and discuss this division between the sexes?

Two Sides of the Same Coin

Coming full circle, we’ve seen and learned more about Rochester and St. John and their relationship to Jane. Both men are potential future husbands for Jane and she is friendly with both of them. However, Jane chooses Rochester over St. John in the end. While Jane does end marrying Rochester out of love, we can assume that Brontë only allows this to happen after his literal trial by fire and change of heart. Without this development and major plot point, he would still be his old self and a similar yet different version of St. John.

From the start, both men overlook Jane when they first encounter her yet slowly, over time, she grows on them in her own special way: Rochester appreciates her innate ability to match his wit during every turn of their conversations while St. John appreciates her dedication to service and her Christian morality. It’s through these means of endearment (and love for her by only one of them) that both men approach her with the prospect of marriage in mind.

However, before being able to properly approach Jane with this notion, both men deal with another woman beside Jane that has somehow taken over an aspect of their lives. For Rochester, this woman is his legal, yet mentally unstable wife, Bertha. While he would love to marry Jane, he cannot because Bertha is still being his legal wife. St. John, meanwhile, wishes to marry Rosamond but at the same time cannot do so because he could never imagine as a missionary’s wife (470).

Furthermore, when Jane rejects both of their proposals, both men try to stress that they need her in some way. Rochester says that, for him, Jane’s love is his reward for, perhaps, caring for his mentally ill wife (410). St. John, on other hand, compares marriage to mating because him having a wife will be solely for the sake of his mission (505). Each of their descriptions of love and marriage show that both men aren’t sure of love, which is why Jane doesn‘t accept either of their proposals.

Towards the end, we’re able to see exactly how much Rochester has changed, and therefore, become more of a foil to St. John: he gives Jane permission to leave him to marry her cousin because of the closer gap in age and being able to live instead serving as his aid (545). Furthermore, Rochester has a new found faith in God and while it isn’t as arduous as St. John’s, it’s more than enough for Jane (551).

Throughout the novel, Jane has met with two men, while varying in appearance and age, are more closer in personality than another other two characters Brontë has introduced to the audience. Because of this great similarity, it could be argued that Jane could have easily ended up marrying St. John because, perhaps, he too could have changed. Yet this wasn’t meant to be and in the end, Jane is with who she loves.

Defiance

It’s interesting that throughout the works we have read thus far, we get the chance to experience the childhood of the main heroine. Even more noteworthy, we see that Jane had to contend with three authoritative male figures during her early childhood.

From her time as a girl, Jane is placed under the thumb of her aunt, Mrs. Reed and is abhorred by her, and in turn, her children. John, especially, holds no affection for Jane whatsoever:

“He bullied and punished me: not two or three times in the week, nor once or twice              in the day, but continually: every never I had feared him, and every morsel of flesh                in my bones shrank when he came near…” (pg. 66)

John’s bullying of Jane goes completely unnoticed by the adults so she has no choice but to defend herself. Her only weapon against his abuse is the cutting words she obtains from the books she reads; however, even then, they’re rendered useless through his acts of violence and his status as a favored child (pg. 67). Despite this failure, the fact that Jane uses knowledge as a weapon as a child speaks volumes about her character and beliefs. However, she has yet to fully deal with John and solidify herself as someone to be treated with respect. Perhaps this will occur during a later reading.

The second figure she has to deal with is the deceased Mr. Reed. While he isn’t physically present with the family, his presence is still a suffocating force felt by Jane. Mrs. Reed uses him in his death as a mean of punishment for Jane. Through this manner, Mrs. Reed has found a way to oppress Jane, yet it isn’t through her own volition; it’s through her fear of his specter and her thoughts of it that make Jane hysterical (pg. 74).

We can say that by defending herself to her aunt, Jane finds a way to banish Mr. Reed’s ghost and therefore, her fears (pg 95 – 96). In this sense, is she able to overcome Mr. Reed’s power over her, not as a supernatural being, but also as a man. Because his presence was the weapon of choice for Mrs. Reed, he was still the head of the household. By standing up to her aunt, she also stands up to Mr. Reed and triumphs.

The final authoritative male Jane deals with in her youth is Mr. Brocklehurst. In chapter seven, he makes an example out of her to the teachers and other students (pg. 128 – 129). Through encouragement from her friend Helen, Jane is able to endure her “punishment”. However, Jane doesn’t have an active hand in uprooting Brocklehurst’s power; instead, it’s the committee put in place for the school.

Right from the story’s start, Jane defies the male authority that attempts to put her in a set place. This makes her a rather dynamic character and I hope we’ll continue to see such behavior from her in the future.

 

Poor Communication Kills (or at Least Makes Everything Worse)

Almost every character in Austen’s Sense and Sensibility has been afflicted with a condition that starts to spread as early as Volume I. Volume II only seems to show that the secondary characters have contracted it too. I have personally dubbed this illness “PCK”, also known as “Poor Communication Kills”. This affliction, after become widespread, will cause the characters to never consider the positives of simply saying what needs to be said to spare others from unneeded drama and heartache. Therefore I must know: Is it really necessary for the characters to keep quiet for propriety‘s sake?

This illness comes to a head at the end of Volume I and into the very beginning of Volume II. Elinor is the first to fall under its influence when she decides to keep Lucy’s secret engagement to Edward to herself. Sure, she does this to spare Marianne and her mother the pain of knowing Edward’s true nature and to maintain Edward’s reputation (pg 100 – 101).  But at the same time, Elinor has no choice but to rely on her own assistance and encouragement to keep her spirits up. Not only that, but she has to be cordial to Edward every time she seems him to maintain the ruse, which, as implied through seeing Marianne’s sisterly interactions with Edward, is painful to do. Couldn’t she have at told Marianne to alleviate the burden she has to carry for Lucy and Edward? Then again, Lucy seemed to enjoy to lording the engagement over Elinor’s head time and time again. Wouldn’t it have been better if Elinor just come clean in order to shut Lucy up?

Another character affected by “PCK” is Willoughby. After appearing as the ever perfect, sensible gentleman, we quickly learn that he’s anything but. True, he may have never intended for Marianne to fall for him, but why not simply state their platonic relationship early on in Volume I? Wouldn’t a simple passing but firm “I’m truly glad we are friends” have been better than Marianne making herself sick over him for a whole volume? We may never know since he quickly leaves town with his new wife.

By default then, we can conclude that Colonel Brandon is also afflicted with “PCK” because of his connection to Willoughby. He only comes forward with the truth about Willoughby after seeing Marianne suffer. He even wishes the two well and hopes that Willoughby does enough to deserve her. It’s only after hearing about the break in the engagement that he tells Elinor everything he know about Willoughby. Why only then? Wouldn’t it have been better if he had said something earlier on and spared Marianne her suffering and Elinor her immense worrying?

Perhaps we will never know the complete workings of “PCK”. But wouldn’t it be nice to know why these characters refrain from speaking the truth when it’s needed the most?

Praise for the Modern Julia!

I am happy to say that Julia Mazzini is the most modern fictional heroine I have encountered thus far in our readings. If you compare her actions to Pamela’s, Julia is the more modern of the two. While Pamela allowed circumstances to happen to her, Julia’s actions are what allowed certain outcomes to originate solely from her.

For example, when told by her estranged father, Marquis Mazzini, that she is to marry the Duke de Luovo, Julia refused outright to acquiesce her father’s request because she is in love with Count Hippolitus de Verenza. She first pleaded with her father to reconsider the arrangement:

“O! sir…Pardon me, my lord, my distress is alas! Unfeigned. I cannot love the duke” (pg. 55).

She then brought up the fact that she has been completely obedient to her father her entire life and therefore, should be deserving of some pity (pg. 55 – 56).

Compare Julia’s active role to that of Pamela’s, specifically, allowing herself to be held hostage for a long period of time instead of taking more initiative. Sure, Pamela did manage to escape once, but unfortunately, she didn’t get very far. She even considered suicide as a means to escape her problems.

However, Julia never once gave into despair nor allowed herself to stay stagnant in the situations her father placed in; she did all she could to get herself out of them. For instance, she was quick to accept the help from her brother Ferdinand to escape her impending and unwanted marriage to the Duke (pg. 66 – 86)

Again, compare Pamela’s decision to stay where she was and pray that all would be made well with time. When Mr. Williams offered to help her through marriage, Pamela declined because she felt nothing but friendship toward him. This is understandable, as Pamela really didn’t know much about him. However, if the story allowed it, they could have come up with another plan with time.

Pamela could have found another way out of her situation, just as Julia did not once, but twice. She ignored the shameful ramifications of eloping with the man she loved and continued to fight. And even when her brother’s plan went awry (and someone she loves dearly died in the process), Julia still managed to elude the duke and lead him on a long and wild chase that made him falling ill from the effort.

Julia is a refreshing and inspiring heroine in that she’s going against the social norms of the time as a young women raised to be part of the upper class world. While this has only occurred during the first volume of the book, I hope she stays true to herself and continues to be the modern heroine Radcliffe has portrayed her to be.

Women Writers: A Problematic Entity?

Russ, Johnson, Newton, and Woolf address why the women writer is a problematic entity through the lens of the world in which she resides. The first reason is culture. According to Russ, culture is patriarchal; therefore, the stories we are so familiar with require a hero, not a heroine. While there is a female culture, it is a minority compared to the apparent majority. Thus, both women and men see culture as being only male.

Furthermore, this means that heroines can’t be the protagonists of many male works by way of gender switching because they have set roles. Heroines cannot be “hard-drinking”, “hard-fighting”, “Woman as Intellectual”, nor a “Mickey Spillane private eye” (pg. 204). What Russ means is real life women are meant to be compartmentalized for the sake of a romance, a marriage (or adultery), and children.

This ties into Newton‘s article and the second reason as to why the notion of women writers is “problematic”: some women writers couldn’t fathom giving their female characters traditionally masculine roles and power; however, they did manage to make them seem powerful in their own right without completely diving headfirst into unknown territory. Power for women is something to be hidden away as if it were a devious thing. For this reason, the ability of women writers and their rebellion against the status quo is hard to see due to the cultural limitation placed on them. Also, the talk of such power among these women writers was something that made them ill at ease; they chose to disguise power instead of revealing it completely to better deal with the topic.

The third reason, the technical issues behind a woman’s wording, according to Woolf, tie into women writers’ uneasiness with power: the language could be judged as something “too loose, too heavy, too pompous” for a woman to write. She has to tweak it and reconstruct it so that it fits her thoughts and musings without completely destroying it. However, according to Johnson, this is paradoxical in and of itself because a woman writer is striving to find a particular voice for her work, but she could end up forgoing it in favor of a less direct style of writing.

All of the concerns put forth by each essayist are legitimate; women were (and still are) expected to play a role in today’s male-dominated society and this includes through their own thoughts, words, and emotions. For each essayist, the ending of their article reflects what they believe about woman writers. Overall, each is hopeful about the future of women writers and dealing with the problematic aspects of the women writer. For Russ, new myths can be created by women. Woolf notes that quality will strive over the quantity of novels. Newton notes that women writers were and are able to use their craft to carefully obscure any and all deeper meanings and their levels. Johnson believes that feminists should research why men are so resistant to changing to the status quo.

Mrs. Jervis: A Dynamic Character

As hinted by Richardson in the title page of his work (and outright said in the introduction), the main character Pamela is the embodiment of virtue where as her pursuer, Mr. B, is her moral opposite: vice. While these two are central to the plot of the book, Mrs. Jervis is a much more compelling character because she struggles with maintaining a good relationship with both persons; this struggle is also representative of the gray area on the moral spectrum, which cements her compelling characterization.

During the period of time we meet and see Pamela interact with Mrs. Jervis, we learn that she is trapped between her obligation to obey Mr. B’s orders, which at times include furthering his agenda concerning Pamela, and aiding Pamela so she can remain virtuous. Pamela informs her parents (and us) that Mrs. Jervis sees her as he own daughter and is quick to know what Mr. B is devising concerning Pamela. Mrs. Jervis, like Pamela’s parents, is also very pleased that she is still virtuous despite attempts from the male servants to tempt her. She also allows Pamela to move into her quarters so she’ll feel more safe and at ease in the home. However, being one of the more realistic characters of the story, she is not without her faults.

While she tries to defend Pamela when she can, Mrs. Jervis still has no choice but to answer to Mr. B and his inquiries about Pamela. She too is of the same social class as Pamela. If she were to lose her employment, she would have no means to support herself at all. She also fears Mr. B because of his power over her and what that power could do if directed towards her. When she’s asked by her master what Pamela claims he has done to her, she tells him that she was told he “only pulled [Pamela] on [his] knee and kissed her”; but as the audience, we know this isn’t the complete truth (pg. 66). Mrs. Jervis even tries to defend Mr. B, informing Pamela that he felt “vexed” by his first and second attempts to seduce her. Even as Mr. B insults Pamela by indirectly speaking to her, Mrs. Jervis doesn’t speak up for the young girl. Furthermore, she doesn’t want to see Pamela leave and go back home, even though it’s in the girl’s best interest.

Mrs. Jervis’ internal struggle between her duty to Mr. B and her friendship with Pamela makes her much more relatable than the main characters themselves. She is, for all of her faults, one of the most human characters in Richardson’s work, making her a very compelling character.