‘The narrative tricks women play are at once signs of powerlessness and of power’. (Schor Dickens and the Daughter of the House 13) Compare and contrast representations of women in The Mayor of Casterbridge and Our Mutual Friend.
Name: Niamh Clohessy
Student Number: 114419238
Due Date: 29th January 2018
Module code: EN3073
Lecturer: Dr Joanna Robinson
It is useless to examine the how women are represented in these to texts and their literary uses without considering Dickins and Hardy’s attitudes to the women in their society. As all great writers do, whether absentmindedly or purposely, let their personal opinions taint their characters. Charles Dickens throughout many of his earlier works shows a clear pattern of distain for the ‘fallen women’ and has a clear ideal of what a proper Victoria lady should be, later in Our Mutual Friend his ideals are loosen but still conveys through lizzie how a disadvantageous lady can still be proper and is deserving of redemption. Hardy’s novel The Major of Casterbridge is an interesting case where is shows the evolution of women from typical Victorian wife to a more modern woman with desires and ambitions of her own. Each character represents a different type of woman evolving in the Victorian era as well as the priorities and morals valued at the time. The three women hardy uses to show this evolution as well as convey his opinions of omen at the time are Susan Henchard, Elizabeth jane Newson and Lucetta Templeman. The Major contrast between the female characters in dickens and hardy’s novels is the authors approach to their characters is their attitudes towards them.
Susan Henchard is the embodiment of a typical submissive Victorian age woman, she is meek, controlled by her husband and mindlessly ignores her husband’s drunken behaviour and rants. She is presented as a plain looking woman and as with many women of this period she as relatively uneducated and so when her husband in a inebriated state sells her to the highest bidder she docilely goes with him. This show that at the time women were treated as commodities to be bought and sold with dowry’s like livestock. Her only drive in life is her daughter’s wellbeing, and as she is going with her new sailor her only condition is her daughter as Michael Henchard states, “But she is willing, providing she can have the child. She said so only the other day when I talked o’t” (Hardy, 10). Susan does not seem to recognise the illegality of this transaction and has no thoughts of her own and it is only later as she shares her plight with a neighbour she realises she had no obligation to leave her husband just based on his drunken transaction. (“The Evolution Of Women In The Mayor Of Casterbridge By Thomas Hardy – Essay – 1412 Words – Brightkite.Com”) The way Susan is represented also opens up the very familiar pattern of men blaming the women around them for their messes. In this case when Henchard wakes up the next morning he does not blame his blatant alcoholism and abuse, but he blames Susan’s simple-mindedness and her lack of self-awareness for his mess. (“The Social Role And Treatment Of Women In Thomas Hardy’s “The Mayor Of Casterbridge””) This representation of Susan as a commodity carries on throughout the novel up to and including her marriage to Henchard for the second time. It resurfaces when he includes the exact change he sold her for in a note to her when she first arrives, and the way he writes his letter at his desk seems very transactional.
Lucetta is a woman for today’s age, reading her today makes her crimes seem inconsequential but in the time period were the height of scandal. But it is the details that show where hardy agreed with her actions or condemned them. Although her secret is exposed to the village it is not hardy’s will to shame women like Lucetta for her deeds, instead he seems to be shaming society as a whole and how they treated her, he is condemning them not the ‘fallen woaman’. This representation of Lucetta differs greatly from Dickens opinions on fallen women whom he seems to have a personal distaste for. Lucetta is described as a high society woman, she has a knowledge of various languages and she incredibly intelligent with ambitions of her own which is unusual in itself. Her intelligence is portrayed through her knowledge of public perception manipulation. She hides her French language skills, because although they are a sign of her intelligence and proper upbringing she is also aware that at the time French women were seen as temptress’ and seductive. (“Lucetta In The Mayor Of Casterbridge”). As well as this, deceit she is also credited by other as using her fashion as disguises. She is describes as changing dresses and portraying that “you are that totally different person” (Hardy, 191).Lucetta knows how to play the PR game. (“LUCETTA LE SUEUR / MISS TEMPLEMAN”)
Elizabeth ane. Had more urgency than her mother , portey a more modern wone who is leanring , simple minded, wants to get married and have a typical life. Elizabeth-Jane is hardys common ground wona of the novel, she is not as submissive and controlled ny the system like her mother but she alos lacks Lucettas intelligence and ambition. She is not as invisable as her mother ans not ridiculed to the extent of Lucetta.. Even though she seems to have more power than her mother her misforutnes and control still come from Henchard as the male dominant in her social circle. As soon as he legally becomes her father togh his marriage to susan he immediately begins to contort her into his and societyies version of an acceptable lady, changing her clothers, her apperecne, and through education even goes to ridiculing her handwriting. He even goes as far as controlling her acceptable social ays by rting to get her to change her last name (“The Social Role And Treatment Of Women In Thomas Hardy’s “The Mayor Of Casterbridge””). This represtention of Elizarh shows a different des to womenin society, she is not meek and inviting of the control and not like lcetta doing everything to work aroun dit, elixabeth seems to b quite aive to it until it begins to haoen to her. Hardy uses his novel to highlight how women were treated in Victorian society especially when they on not conform to the subordinate housewife stereotype. His characters contrasts to dickens show how he viewed women his own society.
In early dickens novel his female characters were either sorted into two types of woman: angels or monsters (Kayama). It isn’t until he creates our mutual friend that he loosens these types and allowed a grey area between and he manoeuvre this space with lizzie. Lizzie is in no doubt dickens ideal woman, she is loyal to a fault, caring as she nurses Eugene back to health, unwavering in her affections and eventually marries him despite his disability. SAHE IS STEADFAST N A WORL Dickens views as full of vices. Lizzie is so kind that she remains devoted to the man that made her unbringing full of hardships and empty of affections. .She believes she can find the good in everyone, stands by her father when he is accused of murder, and stands by him even when all the evidence is portraying the contrayry as well as the job she depises giveign him the mesas. It is lizzies role in the nolev to redeem her father nad eugene, her role is to be a literary device to further the plots of the men around her. Obviously, Dickens believes a good wife, or female figure in general, should be there to supports the men in their lives. however, reading it today leaves many readers with an issue with the fact that dickens wastes her entire life lifting up men like her father without any urgency or ambitions of her own. (Franchi)
All these characters are trapped by the social acceptability of their actions, each woman at their core is different, driven by different compulsions with different intended outcomes but overall three of the four women conform to patriarchal society and are redeemable. Lucetta being the outlier is the majorly different representation of women, that does not conform and becomes tortured because of it. The difference is the authors reaction to this type of women, hardy is not criticising her but society, whereas dickens with this kind of woman would have decimated her character and represented her as a lowline to contrast hardy’s version. These different representations show just how different Dickens and Hardy’s views of women were. Hardy believed women were equal had respect for them, he could be considered a small sort of feminist, as much as one could be in that era which is seen through his female characters and treatment of Lucetta. Dickens is a different story. Some that have studied dickens think he was a misogynist that abuses his female characters, supported by his ideal of what a proper woman should be. The stereotype that a woman’s place was at home raising children, that wives should loyal and unblinkingly support their husbands, and should be utterly subordinate is the epitome of his views, backed up by his utter condemning of women who became self-reliant and received personal incomes through prostitution. (“The Woman Question”)
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Hardy, Thomas. The Life And Death Of The Major Of Casterbridge. London: Macmillan, 1920. Print.
Dickens, Charles. Our Mutual Friend. New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1866. Print.
Franchi, Barbara. “Of Dickens, Women And Metropolises: Our Mutual Friend.” bloggingbooksforlife. N.p., 2014. Web. 26 Jan. 2018.
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