Friday, September 20, 2019

Analysis of Women Characters in Victorian Literature

Analysis of Women Characters in Victorian Literature The common line of criticism made on Anne and Emily Brontes works reflects the widespread belief that the female characters are victims of male cruelty. Critics of the Bronte novels have highlighted a pattern of male dominance and female oppression. For example, Arlene Jackson, in The Question of Credibility in Anne Brontes The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, elaborates on womens powerlessness and male selfishness in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. In the same vein, Juliet McMaster, in her article Imbecile Laughter and Desperate Earnest in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, criticizes the male oppression of the woman in the novel which, she argues, is emblematic of the general treatment of women as they were given no voice in society. In addition, in Hapless Dependants, Women and Animals in Anne Brontes Agnes Grey Grey, Maggie Berg has equated the treatment of women to the treatment of animals by which women are relegated to a secondary position where they can form no true sense of the self. This trend of viewing women as the victims of male hegemony makes it challenging to market the idea that these female characters do, in fact, have enormous power that they utilize in their relationships with men. Therefore this research proposal uses Emily Brontes Wuthering Heights and Anne Brontes Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall to issues pertaining to female behavior and male response that will indicate the extent of this female power. Through their strong wills, purposes, and desires, women characters in these novels often form mens characters, and define their behaviors. For example, in Wuthering Heights, Catherines headstrong and rebellious ways are partially responsible for Heathcliffs antisocial behavior, and it is through Catherines ideas of how men should behave and react to her demands that Heathcliffs character is formed and which leads him to his madness at her death. In Agnes Grey, Miss Murray manipulatively portrays women in a manner that makes Mr. Hatfield v iew women as helpless creatures in their need for rescue, protection, and provision. In light of this argument, how does the womans figuration of the patriarchal male character affect both the man and the woman,? Does this power result in ramifications for the woman as well? Are women aware of the power that they wield, and if they are, why do they blame the man for relationship problems? In my dissertation, I use evidence from the Bronte novels to show that it is womens unwillingness to engage in self-awareness and accountability that contributes to variant male behavior and perceptual outcomes. To that end, I argue that women have far more influence and power than is acknowledged by critics and this power and influence consistently contributes to the formation of male thinking and behavior. Summary Women have natural power in them. This power is not something magical or supernatural; it is part of their femininity. Women have intrinsic power by virtue of being women. In other words, a womans femininity is her powerful tool. Once used, this inherent power may constitute a strong weapon that influences mens lives either positively or negatively. An in-depth study of the emergence, construction, and outcome of female influence on men within myriad contexts is a sure way of vindicating the existence of this female power. Applying this theory to three British novels written by Emily and Anne Bronte Wuthering Heights, Agnes Grey, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall- this study will draw important correlations between female abilities, capacities, and innate talents and the use of these elements to alter or supersede male potentialities. For example, Catherines misuse of her natural female strengths and talents is used to override Heathcliffs reticence against and desire to withdraw from her controlling manipulation, culminating in tragedy for both characters. Additionally, in Agnes Grey, the protagonists yearning for independence and power has influence on both men and women. Similarly, female power and control in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is measured through Helen Grahams interactions with the men in her life. In this novel, Bronte reveals this power and manipulative awareness in her protagonist, but the theme remains intact: women often have inordinate amounts of power and control over men in myriad realms of their lives. In light of this argument, the purpose of this dissertation is to explore the aforementioned three novels to show the outcome of the immense power possessed by women. These powers possessed by females are mainly psychological. In other words, they affect the intellectual, spiritual, emotional and interpersonal world of men with different outcomes for both genders. Introductory Statement of Background, Purpose and Thesis I will analyze The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte and Emily Brontes Wuthering Heights with the aim of showing how they developed female characters whose power influence the men around them. The analysis will prove that this female power and influence affects the intellectual, spiritual, emotional and interpersonal world of men with different outcomes for both genders. The purpose of this study will involve comparing three British novels, written by sisters, whose female characters effect masculine changes, behaviors, and affect the outcomes of various situations. Demonstrating the application of feminine power in relationship dyads will support the hypothesis that women can manipulate, control, and cause harm to men and, through them, socio-political constructs which affect everyone. In addressing the research problem, a thorough review of the selected works, combined with a thorough literature review of existing studies will serve to show how this use of power manipulates or affects outcomes. My research topic is intended to be a significant contribution to socio-cultural, gender-based, and psychological awareness of conflict source and resolution. In other words, it will contribute to understanding the origins or beginnings of problematic relationships between men and women, and suggest how these problems can be solved. While the literature is rife with widely diverse discourse and study on feminism, the body of knowledge is seriously deficient in considering the research problem. That is because this issue requires a major paradigmatic change since the major outcomes of feminism have tended to reject feminine limitations while creating male-opposition toward many of its tenets. Signe Arnfred exposes a practical sense of feminine power in a non-western setting in her article entitled Sex, Food and Female Power: Discussion of Data Material from Northern Mozambique. In this article, she shows how women in a certain part of the world harness their mastery of feminine chores in both reproduction and family into a power tool that calls for respect from men (141). It is vital to note that what the characters in the Bronte novels do is not so much removed from what Arnfred tries to show in her article. The setting and tool might be different, but the game is the same. Arnfreds and the two Brontes women play on one critical point; namely the mans need. Man is need for womens domestic duties and reproductive function as well as their emotional interest. As the women in Arnfreds article employ this need to gain power, the Brontes women make use of the mens emotional need for to them as powerful tool. Abstaining from performing the chores (Arnfreds women) or paying attention (Brontes women) can have serious influence on the man. For example, in Wuthering Heights, Catherine leaves Heathcliff for Edgar, a move that creates confusion and antagonism between Edgar, Heathcliff and Isabella and ultimately leads to Heathcliffs madness. Had Catherine not chosen to withdraw her attention from Heathcliff, he would not have experienced the emotional turmoil th at he experienced. The question that may arises then is, was it within Catherines power to control the events through avoiding any association with Edgar? The answer to this is in the affirmative, and therefore she sought to push Heathcliffs emotions to the edge of a cliff. In fact, male dominance was common in Victorian times, as was female servility; But it is this servility that supported the dominance. Critics of the Bronte novels have noticed the male dominance in these novels, and identified the role women play in perpetuating this dominance. The feminine role in the advancement of male dominance is a power in itself, which, if withdrawn, can have a regulatory outcome on male behavior. In the article The Question of Credibility in Anne Brontes The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Arlene Jackson points out that, Anne Bronte also answers a question that other novels of her time do not ask: what happens to a marriage and to the innocent partner when one partner (specifically, the male) leads a solipsistic life, where personal pleasures are seen as deserved, where maleness and the role of husband is tied to the freedom to do as one wants, and femaleness and the role of wife is linked to providing service and pleasure not necessarily sexual, but including daily praise and ego-boosting and, quite simply, constant attention (203). On the surface, Jackson is asserting that powerlessness is another way of describing women. This is how she decodes the message that Anne Bronte is sending to society through her book. Obviously, numerous people agree with this position, considering the woman to be the victim, suffering silently without a means of escape from the cruel clutches of the man. But this is not the case because in the process of praising someone, there is the knowledge that the praise can be withheld. There is also the knowledge that the praise can lead to dependency as well as other undesirable manifestations of character that may be harmful to both the person lavishing praise, who is the woman, as well as the man, who is the recipient of the praise. An objective analysis of the message from Jackson reveals that men have a certain degree of dependency on the lavish praise they are showered with by women. As much as Jacksons work may have been an attempt to show the credibility of Anne Brontes literary skills, she helps in the identification of areas of female power that is sometimes wrongly interpreted to enhance female servitude and perpetuate male dominance. In the Bronte novels, it is not just praise that men get from women that create an atmosphere of dependency. As shown by Helen Graham, men can become dependent on the love they get from women. For example, under the chapter entitled Miniature, Anne Bronte shows how after showering Mr. Huntingdon with attention, she withdraws it, an act that upsets him. Maggie Berg, in her Hapless Dependants, Women and Animals in Anne Brontes Agnes Grey argues that, in a patriarchal society where women are faced with challenges of identity, expression and recognition- the general treatment of women is implied to be like the treatment of animals. This position is also shared by another critic of Anne Brontes The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Juliet McMaster, who takes the position that the Victorian period was characterized by a huge power imbalance that tilted heavily in favor of men. In her article entitled Imbecile Laughter and Desperate Earnest in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, McMaster talks of a Victorian power structure that did not allow women to have a say in society. All things were done according to the rules set by men for everyone (368). However Berg and McMasters view is harsh and seems to suggest that women have no place in their society. In support of the position that goes against this perception, several published works that have a stand on womens power in relation to men will be examined too. For example Naomi Wolfs critically acclaimed book entitled Fire with Fire: The New Female Power and How to Use it deconstructs McMaster and Jacksons positions on female victimhood. Wolf believes that women have always had more power than men. The biggest problem according to her is that women have not mastered the art of utilizing this power for their benefit (23-25). She further disagrees with women whose time is spent agonizing over a male dominated society where every woman is a victim (56). Evidently, Wolf is not ready to buy into the ideas of Jackson and McMaster. The areas where the latter two see oppression and injustice, the former sees opportunity and freedom that has not been seized by women. Wolf provides solid examples of women who have managed to live happily through the realization that female power is sufficient to combat what has come to be known as male dominance. She points out that politics, business, and family life are all potential areas of female excellence if women meet fire with fire and learn to use some of the tactics men use to manage affairs in society (34). This is the basis of her phrase, fire with fire. Applied to Brontes novels, Wolfs principles would appeal to female characters to not only be aware of how powerful they are, but also how to productively utilize these powers. Wolfs belief in the existence of feminine power greatly contributes to my thesis. Agnes, Helen, and Catherine, in addition to other female characters in the novels, are not the weak victims some critics view them to be. They are women who enjoy a great level of power that they use to influence their surroundings. Another female scholar who has done research on the issue of female power and influence is Margaret Beetham. In an article entitled Thinking Back Through our Mothers Magazines: Feminisms Inheritance from Nineteenth-Century Magazines for Mothers, Beetham, whose main objective is to survey the motherhood oriented magazines that existed in the nineteenth century, makes a refreshingly different statement based on what she discovers in the magazines she reads. As much as there was injustice in society during a greater part of the Victorian period, there was the acceptance that women were equal to men, but different. The admission of equality in these magazines that were published for mothers shows that the empowering element for women was present. What lacked was the will to pursue the path of equality through the elimination of obstacles that made it difficult for women to enjoy the trappings of a free life. It helps to point out that the writers and publishers of the magazines that Margaret Beetham analyzes in her work were both men and women, with most of them being in the hands of women. The significance of this is that women had access to the tools for empowerment as early as the Victorian time, a period that is attacked as highly paternalistic and patriarchal. This point is shared by Lisa Duggan and Nan Hunter. In Sex Wars: Sexual Dissent and Political Culture, the authors poignantly state that man and woman have always tried to live as a united pair, but the truth is that each is pulling in a different direction. The struggle is purely power based and is largely to blame for much of the s uffering that goes on in society (19-21). My study will be unique in the sense that it will depart from the traditional feminist readings and exegeses like that of Jackson and McMaster and utilize the arguments of the kind proposed by Wolf and others cited above. The dissertation will prove the existence of female power and influence in Victorian society, a society that is typically known as purely chauvinistic. Even in this analysis, my study will also go beyond the stress on the female power in the political and economic spheres as perpetuated by Arnfred, Wolf and Beetham. In contrast, I will focus on the psychological and personal dimension of feminine power. Through the critical examination of the Bronte novels, I will show that the power and influence held by women is not the literal political or physical power that society is used to, but rather the psychological one. It is partially the psychological dependency that men have on women that gives women the ability to manipulate circumstances and conditions in ways that can simultaneously hurt and heal both parties. I will use feminist theory to deconstruct the myth it perpetuates about the hegemony of man and the victimhood of woman. I will also use psychoanalytic theory to highlight the psychological power and influence women have on men. Through analyzing the three novels and borrowing from the other available materials and the theoretical framework, my study will purposefully prove that women have natural power and abilities. When these innate characteristics are applied to the intellectual, spiritual, emotional and interpersonal world of men, this power can control and define the opposite sex, with various results for both genders. The Design Chapter Summaries Introduction The introduction will set the pace of the dissertation by giving the background to my thesis. In this sense, the introduction will focus on reviewing the prevailing critical views that I will challenge in my dissertation. The aim will be to set up the idea that the dominant critical perspective views women as victims who are mistreated by men, a position that will be deconstructed in the later chapters of my dissertation. Such critical claims will include Arlene Jacksons The Question of Credibility in Anne Brontes The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Juliet McMasters Imbecile Laughter and Desperate Earnest in The Tenant of Wildfell Hal, and Maggie Bergs Hapless Dependants, Women and Animals in Anne Brontes Agnes Grey among others. Equally important, the introduction will survey some critical views that support the thesis. These include, Marilyn Graman and Maureen Walshs The Female Power Within: A Guide to Living a Gentler, More Meaningful Life and Dan Abramss Man Down: Proof Beyond a Reasona ble Doubt That Women Are Better Cops, Drivers, Gamblers, Spies, World Leaders, Beer Tasters, Hedge Fund Managers, and Just About Everything Else. In addition, Laura Donaldsons Decolonizing Feminisms: Race, Gender Empire Building will be used to reinforce the thesis. The rationale behind this literature review is to set the parameters that my study departs from and challenges. This departure will be illustrated in the chapters that follow. Chapter 1: The Bronte Women: The Dominant View This is the opening chapter of the dissertation. The purpose of this chapter will be to set the tone and lay the argument that will be refuted in later chapters. Thus, the focus will be on the picture painted in the three novels as far as women are concerned. The three sisters books present women as the abused and mistreated members of the society. For example, in Wuthering Heights, Catherine is depicted as a victim of Heathcliffs desires. Similarly, in Agnes Grey, the protagonists mother is portrayed as the gentle, loving woman who gives up her high life for the love of a poor man, Agness father. In The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Helen is shown as a victim not only of Arthur but also Gilbert, who is shown as the angry and irrational man who whips Lawrence and hurts Helen feelings on mere suspicion that she would be allowing Lawrence to court her while knowing that Markham is already into her. The chapter will review such depiction of women in the three novels in details. However, the point that will be highlighted is that a careful analysis of some of the events in the books enables the keen reader and analyst to have a more profound view of women, a view that shows that they are not the submissive women intended or viewed to be. Since the dissertation is about the provision of evidence towards the position that women are not the victims of male hegemony as they are thought to be, this first chapter will be critical in setting up the issue that will be opposed by use of analysis of both these primary sources as well as other credible secondary sources. In this regard, the link between this first chapter and the rest of the dissertation is that it will lay the foundation for the entire dissertation through the establishment of the contested opinion, which the rest of the dissertation will tear down, while building the alternative view. Chapter 2: The Bronte Women: The Hidden Face As chapter 1 illustrates the traditional analysis of the Bronte women, chapter 2 will provide a dissenting analysis to that proposed in the first chapter. Hence this chapter comes to form the crux of the dissertation as it elaborates on the thesis. The three Bronte novels will be critically analyzed in order to portray the often unseen powers of women. Areas where the female power appears in these novels will be highlighted to substantiate the assertion that women are not victims of male domination and abuse, but powerful members of the society whose powers, though not physical, can bring either unimaginable destruction or ultimate redemption. A careful analysis of the events and characters will be conducted to supports this assertion. For example, in Emily Brontes Wuthering Heights, Catherines misuse of her natural female strengths and talents is used to override Heathcliffs reticence against and desire to withdraw from her controlling manipulation, culminating in tragedy for both characters. In Anne Brontes The Tenant of Windfell Hall, Mrs. Helen uses her feminine power to emotionally abuse Mr. Huntingdon through the withdrawal of her affection, which leaves him mad and angry. Another example of the powerful nature of women is shown by Miss Murray who is determined to use her feminine power to ensnare Mr. Weston into falling for her before she gets married to Mr. Hatfield, to whom she is already engaged. Agnes aptly describes Mr. Weston as Miss. Murrays victim (Bronte 212). Susan McKernans article entitled Feminist Literary Theory and Womens Literary History: Contradictory Projects, will be used to create a critical dialogue in this chapter. The article illustrates how some women have sought to absolve females from all that goes wrong in relationships in particular and society in general. My argument in this chapter goes against this contention and proves that women are active participants in relationship management. Another powerful secondary source that will be used in this chapter is Laura Donaldsons Decolonizing Feminisms: Race, Gender Empire Building. This carefully written book will reinforce the thesis by showing how female power has more potential that most people in society are willing to accept. It will therefore support the idea that women can only be victims of men domination willingly or unknowingly, but otherwise, they ought to have the potential to stand up for themselves. In connection to the entire dissertation, this chapter brings up the theme of the paper. It agrees with the thesis and validates the argument. Chapter 3: Female Power: When Women Admit It This chapter will support the theme of the dissertation through the usage of female voices in proving the existence of female power. The aim is to show that the claim made in the dissertation is largely shared by women themselves, and therefore has credence to it. There is no better way to confirm that someone is in possession of something than that person coming out and admitting it himself or herself. This is what this chapter does by allowing female voices to come out and assert that women are indeed powerful in their own right. The use of these female voices will be targeted towards proving the thesis with reference to the major primary sources. Examples on the secondary sources include Signe Arnfreds article entitled Sex, Food and Female Power: Discussion of Data Material from Northern Mozambique. As illustrated elsewhere in the proposal, this reference will be used to prove how the Bronte women may take advantage of the mans need to exercise their power. Another secondary source that will used in this chapter is Margaret Beethams Thinking Back Through our Mothers Magazines: Feminisms Inheritance from Nineteenth-Century Magazines for Mothers. Her article is a clear admittance that woman had access to the tools for empowerment in the Victorian period. Equally important is Naomi Wolfs book, Fire with Fire: The New Female Power and How to Use it. Along with Beethams analysis, Wolfs argument greatly contributes to my thesis. As mentioned above, it substantiates the idea that Agnes, Helen, and Catherine, in add ition to other female characters in the novels, are not the weak victims some critics view them to be. They are women who enjoy a great level of power that they use to influence their surroundings. Further careful analysis of the primary sources will be done in this chapter to substantiate this point. For example, in Wuthering Heights, Catherines headstrong and rebellious ways are partially responsible for Heathcliffs antisocial behavior, and it is through Catherines ideas of how men should behave and react to her demands that Heathcliffs character is formed and which leads him to his madness at her death. In Agnes Grey, Miss Murray manipulatively portrays women in a manner that makes Mr. Hatfield view women as helpless creatures in their need for rescue, protection, and provision. The reference to the primary sources and connection to the overarching theme will provide the necessary flow and linkage for this chapter to the rest of the paper. In more precise terms, the women voices used to reinforce the thesis provide a connection to the second chapter which endeavors to show that women are not victims but powerful individuals. It also provides the groundwork for the following chapter which surveys the impact of the womens realization or lack thereof of feminine power. Chapter 4: Female Power: Realization by Women or Lack Thereof This chapter surveys the effects that emanate from the discovery by some women that they are in possession of immense powers. It also looks at what happens when some women fail to realize that they indeed have these feminine powers that the dissertation seeks to prove that they indeed exist. Again, Naomi Wolfs book, Fire with Fire: The New Female Power and How to Use it will be of great significance to this chapter as she argues that the realization of this power provides a solution for the supposed male dominance. In addition, The Least Angelical Poem in the Language: Political Economy, Gender, and the Heritage of Aurora Leigh  by L.Dalley will also be used. Dalleys article gives insight into the Victorian womens power and thus annuls any contention for the absence of this power in women even in the supposedly most patriarchal society. Once again, this will be done with reference to Bronte novels. The focus will be on how the Bronte females realization of their potential or lack thereof creates a great difference for themselves and for the men in touch with them. The instances where women have realized how powerful they are and used this knowledge to accomplish certain actions will be dealt with. For example, Helens realization of her artistic talent encourages her to leave her husband as it constitutes a source of income. In the same vein, Agness belief in her potential for leading an independent life make her start her venture as a governess, which adds to her experience and potential. In relation to the other chapters, this chapter will be a final verdict that indeed women have powers as it will demonstrate what happens when these powers, which chapters two and three will have shown exist, are put into use by those who know of their presence, or not used, by women whose ignorance insulates them from knowing the powers at their disposal. To a large extent, this chapter legitimizes the dissertation as it takes the argument to the level of observing the outcome of what the thesis claims. At this stage, the argument is not about whether women have powers or not, but about what happens when these powers are or are not used. Conclusion The conclusion will restate the thesis as has been validated through the argument in the preceding chapters. The major ideas that are raised in support of the thesis and some of the readings, both primary and secondary, that have supported or opposed the argument will be briefly revisited. All in all, the conclusion will emphasize the validation of the thesis as logically put through the dissertation chapters. Annotated Bibliography Primary Sources Bronte, A.  The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. New York: Harper Brothers. 1999. Brontà «, C., Brontà «, E., Brontà «, A. The Brontà « Sisters: Three Novels.  New York: Penguin Books. (2009).   Secondary Sources Abrams, Dan. Man Down: Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt That Women Are Better Cops, Drivers, Gamblers, Spies, World Leaders, Beer Tasters, Hedge Fund Managers, and Just About Everything Else .New York: Abrams Image.2011. Based on evidence borrowed from the social and business world, Dan Abrams presents a powerful narrative of how women are better players in different games of life. This message resonates well with the thesis whereby it supports the claim that women have powers that can be a force for good or evil, depending on their usage. This is in opposition to the view that women are victims in society, whose suffering in the hands of men is evident throughout history. Berg, M. Hapless Dependents: Women and Animals in Anne Brontes Agnes Grey.  Studies in the Novel, 34(2), 177+. (2002). Comparing animals to the oppressed nature of women under a patriarchal society, Berg provides a viable contrast to Greys perceived fall from a moral governess to one who commoditizes relationships as she comes to see animals in relationship to food. This perspective will provide catalysts to the thesis since Agnes Grey is largely considered a non-philosophical text but has deep undercurrents to feminine power and control. Beetham, Margaret. Thinking Back Through our Mothers Magazines: Feminisms Inheritance from Nineteenth-Century Magazines for Mothers. Nineteenth Century Gender Studies. Issue 6.2, Summer 2010. Web. March 18, 2011. This article gives a picture of how mothers lived in the 19th century. This information is largely based on magazines, and the overarching message is that women were not under the apron strings of men with limited authority. Therefore, this article is part of the evidence that the is needed to validate the thesis. Braithwaite, W. S. The Bewitched Parsonage: The Story of the Brontes. New York: Coward-McCann. (1950).   Braithwaite provides germane insights into the lives of the Bronte sisters which informs their writing and perception of the world around them as well as their own influence and power (or lack thereof) in their lives. This work will contribute valuable insights into the sisters defenses, perceptions, and belief systems among an unusually tragic set of circumstances. Bump, J. The Family Dynamics of the Reception of Art.  Style, 31(2), 328+. (1997). Bumps article has been selected for this work due to his exploration of the self as it applies to understanding and applying the work of the Bronte sisters. A socially isolated and individualistic view of the self that precludes the possibility of enduring attachments or responsibilities to another (328) fully informs the thesis upon which this work is grounded. Coontz, Stephanie. A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s .New York: Basic Books.2011. Stephanie Coontz is responding to the work of Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique. She agrees with Friedan that women may have undergone suffering in society, but they had the powers to alter these circumstances. Therefore, this book is in line with the assertion made in the thesis. Dalley, L. L. The Least Angelical Poem in the Language: Political Economy, Gender, and the Heritage of Aurora Leigh.  Victorian Poetry, 44(4), 525+. (2006). A decidedly secondary, perhaps even tertiary source to this work, Dal

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