Marks Of Race : Gypsy Figures Essay, Research Paper
Nord, Deborah Epstein. ” Marks of Race : Gypsy Figures and Eccentric Femininity in Nineteenth-Century Women s Writing.” Victorian Studies. Vol.41 No. 2. Indiana: Indiana University Press, winter 1998.
Deborah Nord opens her essay with the declaring statement that nineteenth century literature applies the gypsy figure as the epitome of everything that defies the Victorian English character. She reasons that the gypsy is the perfect inimical figure to be the antithesis of English middle class society. The gypsy was the perfect choice as their realm remained just at the edges of society and for this reason they could not be disregarded as a remote and wholly foreign figure as the colonial races were but instead were considered as a visible separate breed possessed of dark skin, hair, eyes and a lawless disposition. Nord argues that women writers of the nineteenth century took advantage of this available medium to explore and express an unconventional side of the female persona that outside of literary confines would be ignominious. She believes that women began to feel separated from the male dominated society they inhabited, even treated as a lower species, so when the perpetually advancing Victorian society offered up the opportunity through fictional writing for them to reveal these feelings without being ostracised they seized the advantage. Nord puts forward George Eliot feelings that women fell into two categories, the first the ordinary lot of womanhood in which belonged the conventional female, the second the heterodox female temperament which she equates to having a physical deformity or racial otherness. The gypsy encapsulates this otherness entirely.
Nord then discusses Freud s theory of Family Romance which basically states that the the male child on feeling bitterness or sexual rivalry towards his parents fantasises that he has been adopted and in reality the offspring of parents of higher social standing . This primarily has the effect; claims Freud, of raising the child s image of himself and lessening the child s regard for his real parents specifically his father. Nord says this fantasy becomes very real in the plot of the eighteenth and nineteenth century novel, highlighting the examples of Dickens Oliver Twist and Tom Jones but how can women writers exploring a new found aberration from the female role utilise this plot suggestion and modify it to intimate new ideas. The first modification they make on the fantasy of family romance is to look at it from a female point of view, as Freud appears to neglect this. Nord theorises that if the male child disassociates himself from the identity of his father then so to the female child is disassociated from the identity of her mother, disregarding her femininity and imagining herself to be kin to an alien and exotic people that enables her to reinvent her feminine identity . The second variation is if Freud s theory explains the fantasy for desire to be higher in social ranking what does the fantasy of a lower or stigmatised (as Eliot believed it was) birth mean for the narrative of the women writer. Nord suggests that imagining this fantasy releases the female from the cultural and literary need to gain respectability through marriage. To imagine oneself kin to the lowly gypsy is to free oneself from all restrictions of conventional femininity and to rationalise abnormalities of complexion or character. Nord examines numerous works by women writers of this period and examines the effect…
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