New Women Of The Victorian Era Essay

, Research Paper


?New Women? of the Victorian Era

The Victorian era brought about many changes throughout Great Britain. Man was searching for new avenues of enlightenment. The quest for knowledge and understanding became an acceptable practice throughout much of the scientific community. It was becoming accepted, and in many ways expected, for people to search for knowledge. Philosophy, the search for truth, was becoming a more intricate part of educating ones self; no longer were people holding on to old-fashioned ideas. Central to the story lines of Middlemarch, written by George Eliot, and Jude the Obscure, by Thomas Hardy, is the theme of ambition and the tempering of expectations both to social difficulties, and on a broader scale, human frailty. Dorthea Brooke and Sue Brideshead display elements of the ?new woman? and both are driven to accomplish what each desires. Both are intelligent and educated women. The contrast in the two comes from the different motives each has to separate themselves from the norm. Sue is self-centered in her ?independence,? while Dorthea is an ardent spokeswoman for social reform and justice. Both women follow different paths, neither ending up at a position they once knew they would attain.

Dorthea is depicted early in the novel as having an intimidating presence; however, at a dinner with the supposedly learned and intelligent Mr. Casaubon, she feels quite uneasy. He is an older man with an unattractive appearance which goes completely unnoticed to the ?lovestruck? Dorthea. Her sister Celia comments, ?How very ugly Mr. Casaubon is!? Dorthea responds by comparing him to a portrait of Locke and says he is a ?distinguished looking gentleman.? Later, after dinner, Casaubon and Dorthea discuss religious matters and she looks at him in awe because of his supposed superior intellect. ?Here was a man who could understand the higher inward life?a man who?s learning almost amounted to proof of whatever he believed!?(p. 24). As intelligent as Dorthea is, she failed to see Casaubon for the man he really is, and will be, in marriage. Casaubon proposes to her and she accepts. She sees this as an opportunity to further advance her own intellectual abilities and help a great man complete his studies. Later she would realize her husband has very limited intellectual abilities and is not a suitable companion for herself.

Dorthea?s family did not want her to marry Casaubon. Her independent nature defies the social norm of the period by marrying him, because a woman of the nineteenth century was expected to comply with her family?s wishes. She never wished to be sitting at home sewing and not accomplishing her ?knowledge? goals in her marriage. She had lofty expectations and wanted to learn about the world from Casaubon.

Dorthea expected much more from her marriage. Her strong sense of loyalty to her husband would not allow her to leave the relationship. This is just the type of person she is. She discovers her true feelings for Will Ladislaw, that of love, but would never act on them because it would devastate her husband. She is a genuinely wonderful person, more caring about others than herself.

Sue is an extremely peculiar character. It is difficult to determine what exactly it is that she wants to attain. Her personality is contrasting throughout the novel. Jude first observes his cousin at work making a design that says Alleluja. He says, ?A sweet, saintly, Christian business, hers!? and believes her to be a pious creature (p. 72). However, Sue is displayed as not being a religious person. On a previous holiday, she purchased two reproduced plaster statues of two Roman Gods, Venus and Apollo. This led to her losing her job and her residence because her landlord disapproved.

Jude got Sue a job teaching at Mr. Phillotson?s schoolhouse after she was fired from her job. She took her students to Christminster where they observed a modeled recreation of Jerusalem. Sue commented to Phillotson, ?I think that this model, elaborate as it is, is a very imaginary production?there was nothing first rate about the place, or people, after all-as there was about Athens, Rome, Alexandria and other old cities.?(p. 87) This was one of many character flaws Sue held. She was never able to find happiness because she felt someplace else would make her happy. She was often talking poorly of Christminster and its components. She compared the city to ?new wine in old bottles.? She felt the college and city were meant for someone like Jude and his eagerness to learn, but understood the reasons why he would never be accepted. She was outspoken on many subjects like this, but did not suit her actions to her words. She failed to leave the city on her own, that would be difficult, and married Phillotson because it was an easy answer to her many ?life? questions.

Sue, like Dorthea, married an older man she was totally incompatible with. She was not physically attracted to him, so her reason for marriage could only be for the security. This does not seem to be a product of the ?new woman? or an intelligent person. Sue is still a virgin and never sleeps with her husband. She is fiercely afraid of desire and love, of emotions. She wants love and to be loved, but she does not know how to accomplish the task. She does not care how her actions might hurt her husband. This is one area where the two women are different to a large degree. Sue leaves her husband for Jude while Dorthea could have never left Casaubon, even though she did not love him.

Sue and Jude live together unmarried for many years, neither able to marry in a church ceremony again. They have two children and care for his son from his first marriage with Arabella, Little Father Time. Little Father Time murders Sue and Jude?s children, then kills himself. Sue is expecting another child, but it is stillborn. Sue can not handle these tragedies. It is the last straw in her much maligned life. She feels this is her punishment from god for her divorcing Mr. Phillotson. She says to Jude before she leaves him, ?I am going back to Richard?O be kind to me?a poor wicked woman who is trying to mend.? She believes she can reconcile with a god she did not used to believe in. The tragedy in her life changes her to something she never wished to be. She has given up and returned to the man she does not love. She never slept in his chamber with him, having jumped out the window when he entered her room one evening. ?A quick look of aversion passed over her face, but clenching her teeth she uttered no cry,? is what her expression was when she finally to entered his bed. She feels her duty outweighs her own feelings. It is the end of all she ever was, no more independence, for Sue is no longer the person she was in her youth.

Dorthea is left with the provision of not marrying Will Ladislaw in order to inherit all of Casaubon?s fortunes. Her independent nature leads her to give up all of his money to marry Ladislaw. She tells Will, ?I hate my wealth?and I will learn what everything costs,? after both have professed their love for each other. She is willing to depart with the money, even though she should be entitled to it. She was always faithful do Casaubon, despite not loving him. They marry and have two children with a ?house full of love.? Will does become a member of Parliament, but he never makes a fortune.

Dorthea lives a happy life because she followed her independence. She made choices she regretted, but overcame them with her strong personality. She never accomplished all the goals she had set out to, but she did find love with Will. The money she gave up could have helped her establish the knowledge and training she wanted to achieve, but her love of Will was more important to her than her academic endeavors. She was indeed an independent woman with a strong sense of moral values. Sue was the exact opposite of her. Sue never wished to help anyone but herself. She did whatever made her happy or secure. Her independent nature came from her own self-absorbed sense of life. She never really loved Jude, or anyone else. She just enjoyed the idea of someone loving her. She was dependent on this in order for her to feel a sense of belonging. Both women followed patterns of being a ?new woman,? but neither one followed the pattern completely.


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