. The Role of Women in the Nineteenth Century and Their Portrayal in the Novel While women today are (almost) as equal as men, women in the nineteenth century did not have the same opportunity. They had few rights, which contributed to the rise of the women’s rights and the suffrage movement thanks to which changes occurred in the course of the nineteenth century when they gained some rights with regard to marriage (Simkin) and voting (Wojtczak). To understand their position better, it is necessary to point out that women, once married, did not have any possessions (Damrosch). Everything they owned became their husband’s possession. This was due to “the laws in Britain that were based on the idea that women would get married and that their husbands would take care of them” (Simkin). Simkin explains this in more detail: “Before the passing of the 1887 Married Woman’s Property Act, when a woman got married she could not own property, even inherited property, and her wealth was automatically passed to her husband. If a woman worked after marriage, her earnings also belonged to her husband”. If one takes a closer look at the position of women, it is obvious that they were subordinated to men. The only role they were obliged to play was that of a wife and a mother, especially when it comes to women of the upper class. Since they did not have to work, their only duty was to give birth to their children and to obey their husband. Consequently, it does not surprise that the only things we know of them are usually “their names, the dates of their marriages and the number of children they bore” (Woolf 580). However, women of the nineteenth century were to some extent in a better position than those before them: “They had some leisure; they had some education. It was no longer the exception for women of the middle and upper classes to choose their own husbands. And it is significant that of the four great women novelists – Jane Austen, Emily Brontë, Charlotte Brontë, and George Eliot – not one had a child, and two were unmarried” (Woolf 581). As stated, women in the nineteenth century had some education, though not in today’s form. They were educated from books that were at first read to them by their mothers until they were taught to read or, if they could afford it, by a governess who could teach them things like reading, writing or playing certain instruments. Austen alludes to this many times in Pride and Prejudice. The members of the higher rank, like Darcy’s sister and Miss Bingley or Mrs. Hurst, had the privilege of having a governess who could teach them these things. On the other hand, the Bennets did not have 8 enough money to afford their five daughters a governess, so they were mostly self-educated at home. Of all of them, Mary was most persistent in it and was trying to learn as much as possible, although not always successfully. Lydia and Kitty did not care much about these things, and Jane and Elizabeth paid enough attention to it to be regarded as educated. Luckily, they had enough money to be able to afford books from which they could learn. When Lady Catherine asks Elizabeth about her education, she says: “We never had a governess” (Austen 98) but their parents still made it possible for them to get an education: “such of us as wished to learn never wanted the means. We were always encouraged to read, and had all the masters that were necessary. Those who chose to be idle certainly might” (Austen 98). According to Armstrong, women are the weaker sex by laws of nature, so what eventually determined their social role are probably their physical and psychological differences (“Introduction” 623). They are responsible for “making men political and women domestic rather than the other way around, and both therefore acquired identity on the basis of personal qualities that had formerly determined female nature alone” (Armstrong, “Introduction” 623). Due to their sensibility and sensitivity women were perceived as better in housework than men. Nevertheless, Armstrong refers to another important difference: in nineteenth century fiction, (…), men were no longer political creatures so much as they were products of desire and producers of domestic life. As gender came to mark the most important difference among individuals, men were still men and women still women, of course, but the difference between male and female was understood in terms of their respective qualities of mind. (“Introduction” 622-623) As well as in fiction, in the nineteenth century real life women were much more respected if they were more sensible than others. If one takes Pride and Prejudice as an example of a realistic depiction of the society of that time, it is clear that those women who acted in accordance with their sense were more appreciated in the society. For example, because of her common sense Elizabeth did not let herself be fooled by some characters and she acted the way she thought was best. With such traits as the brightness of her mind and sensibility, she is much esteemed by others. Therefore, people like spending time in her company and do not hide their admiration for her: “It was plain to them all that Colonel Fitzwilliam came because he had pleasure in their society, a persuasion which of course recommended him still more; and Elizabeth was reminded by her own satisfaction in being with him, as well as by his evident admiration of her” (Austen 107). 9 During the course of the nineteenth century women were becoming more and more recognized as writers. This was a huge step forward, even if many of them had to publish under pseudonyms, because earlier in history they were not allowed to publish any kind of literary forms. According to Ian Watt, women were better in writing novels. He attributes it to the “the feminine sensibility that was in some ways better equipped to reveal the intricacies of personal relationships and was therefore at a real advantage in the realm of the novel” (298). This can be explained on account of their better connectedness to the society in the sense that they spent more time observing it than men. Men had “better” work to do. Woolf explains that it was the female way of living and that by “being surrounded by people, a woman was trained to use her mind in observation and upon the analysis of character. She was trained to be a novelist and not to be a poet” (Woolf 581). Gilbert and Gubar ascribe the women’s power in portraying their characters to the struggle they had with overcoming the female stereotypes (48). They had to prove to the society “that a revolt against patriarchal literary authority is possible” (Gilbert and Gubar 49). It is difficult to establish what exactly helped women write the way they did about the society. Nevertheless, they played a huge role in changing the perspective of the society when it comes to their position by writing novels and depicting male and female characters and their problems. If one tries to analyse the role of women in the novel, it can be seen that it is compatible with the ones previously described. Most of the female characters in the novel suit their role of a mother and a wife. However, they had one more important role: they were in charge of the house and property. They were responsible for the furniture and housekeeping, except when they had servants. Although they did not have their own possessions once they got married, they were mistresses of the household and, besides being a mother and a wife; it was their most important role. Their depiction in the novel is based on daily leisure and social events that took place in their neighbourhood. The most important social events were balls, and Austen describes two significant ones: the first in the town near Meryton, and the second in Netherfield, on Mr. Bingley’s property. Balls were very important in making social connections because they were massive assemblies and various people attended them. At the first ball were made the most important acquaintances that would affect the course of the novel: Jane met Bingley and Darcy met Elizabeth. The second ball was more a formality that took place in order to confirm the opinions established on their first meeting. In addition to being an opportunity for making 10 connections, balls also provided an opportunity to meet a future husband. Therefore, it is no wonder that women in the novel desperately wanted to attend them and look their best: The prospect of the Netherfield ball was extremely agreeable to every female of the family. Mrs. Bennet chose to consider it as given in compliment to her eldest daughter, and was particularly flattered by receiving the invitation from Mr. Bingley himself, instead of a ceremonious card. Jane pictured to herself a happy evening in the society of her two friends, and the attentions of her brother; and Elizabeth thought with pleasure of dancing a great deal with Mr. Wickham. (…) And even Mary could assure her family that she had no disinclination for it. (Austen 54) Another thing that characterizes women in the novel is their constant visits to friends and family. Elizabeth and Miss Lucas, owing to the fact that they are close friends and live nearby, often visit each other. Lydia and Kitty, on the other hand, undertake their visits based on the fact that near Meryton, a town where their aunt and uncle are situated, there is a militia regiment station. Therefore, they pay frequent visits to them not with the intentions of firming their relationship with the family, but with the immature intentions of having fun with the soldiers: The two youngest of the family, Catherine and Lydia, were particularly frequent in these attentions; their minds were more vacant than their sisters’, and when nothing better offered, a walk to Meryton was necessary to amuse their morning hours and furnish conversation for the evening; and however bare of news the country in general might be, they always contrived to learn some from their aunt. At present, indeed, they were well supplied both with news and happiness by the recent arrival of a militia regiment in the neighbourhood; it was to remain the whole winter, and Meryton was the headquarters. (Austen18) Elizabeth and Jane, however, were different from Lydia and Kitty. They liked spending time with Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, their uncle and aunt, as well as travelling, which was a great advantage for women of upper classes considering the fact that travelling is the best way to learn something and to grow as a person, but also to meet people. It is obvious that women in the nineteenth century still had fewer rights than men and were therefore subordinated to them. However, gender conventions still remain somewhat of a mystery: “While others have isolated rhetorical strategies that naturalize the subordination 11 of female to male, no one has thoroughly examined the figure, or turn of cultural logic, that both differentiates the sexes and links them together by the magic of sexual desire” (Armstrong, “Introduction” 638). According to Armstrong, to understand these settings of the human society, one has to discard the presumption “that gender differentiation is the root of human identity” (“Introduction” 638) because without doing so it is impossible to comprehend “the totalizing power of this figure or the very real interests such power inevitably serves” (“Introduction” 638).

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