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The Role of Feminism in Victorian Literature

Jul 23, 2023 | 0 comments

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Jul 23, 2023 | Essays | 0 comments

Introduction

Feminism is introduced by Mary Shelly with the emergence of numerous issues that began emerging in the Victorian age. The Victorian age was the beginning of England’s vast range of changes as well as difficulties. The Industrial Revolution resulted in drastic changes in the living conditions of the citizens; eventually, this resulted in a drastic change within the economy, it brought an overall change to the economy, changes ranging from the industrial sector up to the agricultural sector. Furthermore, the Victorian Era marked significant progress as well as great achievements. The religion, as well as faith within society, placed unrealistic values and roles for the women. Stevenson through the ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ presents no female characters who stood out as a primary or major character within the entire narration. Whereas women faced a significant struggle in the fight for liberation, to free themselves from the male-dominated society, the Victorian men experienced a level of fear and saw the feminist who fought for personal liberties as a great threat. However, Stevenson within his novel had a great level of influence from Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel ‘Frankenstein’, therefore Stevenson tends to pay homage towards Shelley throughout his novel at various points. The nature of rebellion portrayed by Mr. Hyde’s presented a threat to equality’s balance with the English society. Furthermore, horror escalation in Stevenson’s novel highly depended on the rise in the level of women’s oppression.

 

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According to CzyżEwska, Urszula, And Grzegorz, the higher the level of oppression amongst the women in Stevenson’s novel, the higher the level of horror experienced by the characters (19). CzyżEwska, Urszula, And Grzegorz further explain that Stevenson tends to channel Frankenstein (19). CzyżEwska, Urszula, And Grzegorz state that leaving out and silencing the woman’s voice through the absence of a female character creates alienation of femininity (21). Thus, portraying a level of hypocrisy within the male characters in the book, influencing the level of sinful and purity. Thus, Stevenson’s ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ could have a comparative analysis to Shelley’s Frankenstein particularly because both books tend to present a characterization of their women as useless, passive, as well as disposable; thus presenting both similarities and comparisons.

Feminism as by Robert Louis Stevenson ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’

Stevenson’s ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ entails numerous strong opinions and stands. Roth points out that the narration is centered on humanity’s conception as a related dual within right and wrong, nature, good and evil as well as joy and despair (6). Roth mentions that Stevenson adopts the employment of particularly intertwined narrative methods and techniques; for instance, foreshadowing, flashback, and even suspense. Stevenson portrays an invitation to readers to substantial bring forward questions on the Victorian’s late period value system about temperance.

First of all, quite a several critics have emerged in concern to women’s non- existence within the novel. It brings up the issue of non-existing equality nor intimates about the primary characters within the book, standing a literary aspect as well as a factor within Stevenson’s life as well as a social-cultural aspect. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde present a dramatization of the inherent weaknesses brought about by the social organization of the late period of the Victorian era. The weakness brings about a level of emotions that are pre-oedipal, oedipal as well as unsolved which present a level of threat towards the probabilities within the society (Rose, Brian & Stratos 8). Stevenson’s relationship with a woman of your peer risks being involved with both their homoerotic as well as homosocial nature and should be therefore be avoided (48). Stevenson states that “…man is not truly one, but truly two” (Stevenson, p.48); thus, presenting substantial and alarming gender issues during that particular era. Stevenson presents a problem where he creates a world where men are unable to comprehend issues that may arise in their lives, particularly because he created a world that presents no interactive relationship that may exist between women and men. A community that is male-dominated and centered creates an environment that is highly oppressive of the female voice and women as a whole (Rose, Brian & Stratos, 11).

Nevertheless, Rose, Brian, and Stratos mention that Stevenson manages to present women in his novel through three primary aspects within the late Victorian era; the socio-cultural aspect, the level of energy in feminism as gender in both sex and sexuality, and lastly, the Oedipus complex aspect (11). According to Rose, Brian, and Stratos, these aspects enable Stevenson to express feminism in the exploration of crucial times throughout the male-centered novel (13). Thus, the feminine elements tend to be expressed in mannerisms that are ambiguous as well as subtle. Comprehending the bibliographical together with the socio-cultural interpretation is enhanced through Stevenson’s clear reflection of feminism as a gender issue.

First of all, Stevenson presents women as a humble counterpart to the male population in the socio-cultural aspect. Stevenson presents a community that is celibacy; he created male characters who had a slight relationship with their female relatives as well as friends. Furthermore, the small number of female characters appearing ephemerally, Stevenson further places their names as well as backgrounds to remain mysterious and unknown to the reader. A young girl who came from a poor family, who Hyde had knocked down and trampled on with their paths cross particularly as intersection, a number of her female relatives who were indignant, a maid who witnessed the Jekyll killing Sir Danvers Carew, the landlady to Hyde’s Soho, the maids together with the cook at Jekyll’s household, and lastly, the woman who was selling matches at the streets.

Moreover, the worrying absence of characters of the female population as well as the concomitantly of the violence absence that was against them standing as a “negation,” that can be entirely perceived as a type of violence. Thus, presenting a view that is panoramic amongst the Victorian females within standing socio-cultural aspect. Stevenson places all the female characters at a substantially low social status and is perceived as a design that could bring a submission to the men as well as giving implications with their impersonality. Furthermore, Stevenson explicitly presents women within the margins of the society and the story, thus enabling his narration to conform to the aspects of his social values and norm; as well as representing his individual social conflict.

Secondly, CzyżEwska, Urszula, And Grzegorz point out that women stand in a level of vulnerability in both the economic as well as social aspects, thus tarnishing women’s status throughout the Victorian Era (23). The religious beliefs of the time encouraged and motivated the subordination of women; thus significantly contributing to domestic as well as societal abuse. These set beliefs led the men populations to create justifications for their unnecessary violence against their counterparts. Particularly because the Victorian era was marked as the period of the significant religious following (CzyżEwska, Urszula, And Grzegorz 24). Therefore, since the Bible tends to support the submission of women it leads to men having the impression that it was from the beginning of creation their God-given right to have control over their women, and therefore physical violence in the name of making corrections was accepted with the society.

Just as indicated in Stevenson’s narrative, ‘One little man who was stumping along eastward at a good walk, and the other girl of maybe eight or ten who was running as hard as she was able down a cross street. …the two ran into another naturally enough…the man trampled calmly over the child’s body and left her screaming on the ground (9).’ Moreover, the little girl forced by the level of discrepancy with gender power, trying to evade any form of conflict due to her coalition with Hyde ran as fast as she possibly could. Enfield who was a witness to this particular scene claimed that Hyde was just “at a good walk”, he further states it was natural to have the clash. Thus, proving the solidarity amongst the men (Rose, Brian & Stratos 23). The level of violence portraying a very clear displaying of the Victorian woman’s spiritual as well as physical and spiritual repression, thus exposing that the more they were submissive the more the violence was exposed.

Thirdly, Stevenson indicates a level of coordination between the feminine as well as masculine creates a subversion towards each other’s identity, thus presenting an implicit sensually based sexual relationship (47). For instance, Jekyll a conservative bachelor at fifty years old particularly remains socializing with his male peers. Jekyll has no girlfriend, wife, or even a fiancée, and from a substantially early phase within life indulged in his own pleasures during the night- time he found an uncomfortable inconsistency in his substantially own cherished public image (Stevenson 47). However, we are left in dark as to what specifically was his night pleasures. Women’s role in sex, as well as sexuality, represents entirely the feminine energy. Even with no mention of major characters of the female population; as well as indirect association with the men throughout the narration, Stevenson strategically uses the shifts of roles between the men and women thus creating a sense of an environment substantially flexible to change towards bisexuality.

All in all, Stevenson is perceived as a firm believer of the Victorian Era social norms through his despicable sidelining of all female characters; whereas he also stands with a level of resilience during his time through the inducement of incestuous aspects in his work.

Feminism as by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein discovers the gender-based issue of identity through the creation of an abnormal monster set in an otherwise tranquil society. The unfamiliar nature under which the Monster Frankenstein was born together with his successive experiences acts as a counterpoint to the focus of female gender in British society as they are now core in enhancing the stability of the social order that prevailed other than being just a mere companion to the men.

From the beginning, the male gender shows disinterest in domestic matters and they single-mindedly pursue their goals. Contrary to this the female gender is directly linked to domestic matters, also, the female’s gender is portrayed in a compassionate light in correspondence to Victorian Ideals of women as matrimonial caregivers. The description of Elizabeth Lavenza as “docile and good-tempered (66), yet “gay and Playful” (66) these seemingly inconsistent qualities highlight Elizabeth’s role as a model Victorian woman with a solitary duty of providing attention to the family.

It is clear throughout the novel that Elizabeth’s self-sacrificing nature is shown through how she is focused on ensuring the happiness of others whereas she forgets entirely about herself (73). This shows that woman is completed relegated to the background of the Victorian social environment. Further to this, the phrases “gentle and affectionate disposition” describes Elizabeth as the one whose role is not the only caregiver for the family but also as the one with maternal qualities. The repetition of “Affection” shifts the attention to the mutual strand of a tender as well as warm nature which is universal among the female characters in Frankenstein.

Following the hyper-idealized depictions of the woman, Shelly goes ahead to elucidate the essential influence of such maternal figures. The fact that Frankenstein admits that “no creature could have more tender parents than (he did)” (65) suggested that childhood can only be complete with parental care and attention which is contrary to his first experience which was characterized by being “poor miserable and helpless” which in real sense translates to noticeable poverty of maternal nourishment and nature.

It is important to note that the female nurturing presence is indicated in the Frankenstein cry of how “no Eve soothed [his] sorrows, or shared [his] thoughts; [he] was alone” (145), this stresses not only the lengthy seclusion of the monster since birth but also precisely how the affection he needed will only be provided with a female companion.

At its backbone, Frankenstein is a legend who explores the apparent consequences and possibilities when the limits of nature are breached and confronted by humanity. However, by instilling its characters with conservatively gender-specific traits, the roles of the female gender of the nineteenth century in the British society is illustrated by Frankenstein as being beyond what presume which is a simple accessory to them. Insofar as women are fundamental to the nurturing of the loved ones together with the children Shelly elevates the female gender as not only vital for maternal significance but also as very essential to men’s social roles.

Conclusion

In both Shelley’s and Stevenson’s narration women during the Victorian era are defined by the level of struggle they faced with the high level of oppression from their male counterparts, thus creating the firm arise for feminism. The women in both narrations had their voices silenced and placed on the sidelines, especially in Stevenson’s perception of society. The women thus struggled substantially to fight for a voice, for liberation to try and free them from the male-dominated society. The Victorian men feared the feminist who fought for personal liberties as a great threat. Both books present and proved that with the rise in the oppression of women, there was a substantial rise in the horrific aspects that would simultaneously occur. Therefore, both Shelley’s and Stevenson’s narration portrayed the dire need for feminism and unity and strength amongst the women in society to fight towards equality.

Works Cited

Brackett, Virginia. Mary Shelley. , 2016. Print.

CzyżEwska, Urszula, And Grzegorz Głąb. “Robert Louis Stevenson Philosophically: Dualism And Existentialism Within The Gothic Convention.” Roczniki Filozoficzne. 62.3 (2014): 19-33. Print.

Rose, Brian A, And Stratos E. Constantinidis. Transformations Of Terror: American Dramatizations Of Stevenson’s “The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde” And The Dramaturgy Of Anxiety. , 1993..

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, 1797-1851. Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus: The 1818 Text. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Print.

Stevenson, Robert Louis. Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde. S.L.: Blurb, 2017. Print.

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