The Victorian female is the woman in the era known as the Victorian era symbolized by the reign of British monarch Queen Victoria. This era is infamous among women since they did not have suffrage rights, the right to sue or the right to own property. Women during this era were reduced to being merely objects of men. This is so since once marriage has taken place, all the wealth possessed by the woman becomes the property of the man to do with as he sees fit. This possession also included their bodies which means that the man could do as he so wishes with the body of his wife. Sex was mainly for the pleasure of the man and required for the submissiveness of the woman. Rights and privileges of Victorian females were limited. Their role was to take care of the children and to make the home looks presentable in the case of parties.’ The HouseGeneral’ was a termed coined by Isabella Beeton in 1861 in her manual. She explained that the mistress of a household is comparable to the commander of an army or the leader of an enterprise. For a woman to run a household and gain respect to its name, then she had to secure the comfort, well-being and happiness of the family by performing her duties as thoroughly as needed. These characteristics are shown in the play ‘Mrs. Warren’s Profession’ by George Bernard Shaw and the novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.
Shaw’s play is based in the Victorian era. The plot circles around two main characters. Mrs. Kitty Warren and her daughter, Vivie. Mrs. Warren is a Victorian female who despite her time and era has been able to surpass many of the obstcales they as women face and has been able to support her daughter through means not considered safe by her daughter. Vivie represents the late Victorian female that is educated, radical and a feminist who critics her mother’s ways of keeping her up.
Bronte’s novel focuses on Jane Eyre. It unfolds her sensibility, morality and spiritual strength. Jane, like Vivie is educated and through the notion that knowledge is power is able to strongly criticize the way of life in the era of the Victorian female, socially and morally.
Mrs. Warren has her named changed to hide her identity and give the impression that she is married. Normally, women in the Victorian era with children out of wedlock are not respected. There are despised by the society and as such get stigmatized. They are seen as ruined or fallen. Victorian literature and art was full of examples of women paying clearly for straying from moral expectations.
Infidelity. Both Reverend Samuel Gardener and Sir George Crofts have a history with Mrs. Warren and speculation is that either of them could be Vivie’s out of wedlock father. This does not augur well with Vivie at the latter part of the play.
Women in the Victorian era cannot own property thus Mrs. Warren intelligently co-owns a chain of brothels with Sir George Crofts. Mrs. Warren explains to her daughter that she preferred to not work in the industry and suffer the same fate as her sister, Anne Jane.
The Victorian female in the earlier stages is not allowed not own property. However, in the case of Mrs. Warren, prostitution seems to be the only way she could find to generate the much needed income for the upkeep of her daughter, Vivie. This is further influenced by the fact that there is no Victorian male in the picture to provide.
Mrs. Warren arranges for Praed to come over from Horsham to be introduced to ViVie Warren, her daughter. Victorian females in this illustration depict the lack of say when it comes to the selection of a spouse. This is done by the Victorian male. As there is no one of that status in Vivie’s life, it is only logical that her mother, who tends to her needs gets to worry about the issue.
On the sealing of a marriage contract, the wealth and possessions of the woman in the Victorian era fall to the husband. Since Frank knows that Vivie has money, or rather her mother is well-to-do, he discloses to his father, Reverend Samuel Gardener that he desires to marry her for the money she seems to have and not for the status she also seemingly has. In the Bronte’s book, Mr. Rochester’s father tricks him into marrying Bertha, Mr. Mason’s sister for her money. In the end, the husband would get ownership of the money.
A wife’s duties to tend to her husband and properly raise her children were considered crucial cornerstones of social stability by the Victorians. Mrs. Warren took to prostitution to fulfill this. Depicted in the poem, The Angel in the House, by Coventry Patmore published in 1854: ” She lives with love that cannot tire; and when, ah woe, she loves alone, Through passionate duty love springs higher As grass grows taller round a stone.” Virgin Wolf in 1942 also quoted that “She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily… in short, she was so constituted that she never had a mind but preferred to sympathize always with the minds and wishes of others.
Mrs. Warren is mandated by the New Poor Law, which argues that women bear financial responsibilities for out-of-wedlock pregnancies which includes Vivie since she was an illegitimate child. As such Mrs. Warren feels obligated to care for the needs of her daughter when she is away in school even as she provides her allowance which we see her wanting to double as the last act, Act four comes to an end.
Education in this area was specialised by gender. Women were allowed to engage in the study of refined subjects like geography, history and literature in common. This was to ensure critical points were not raised since the subjects harboured non-controversial topics. However, despite this restrictions, some women, like Vivie did excel in the male gender specifity. She had a degree in mathematics from the University of Cambridge. Mathematics was a male-dominant field of study and such women pioneered the way for gender equality in modern day education in Britain. In the other context by Bronte, Jane attends school at Lowood Institution after the recommendation by Mr. Lloyds to Mrs. Reed that Jane should be sent to school. However, since the Victorian female is still in the initial stages of being allowed education facilities, they are not entitled to privileges and as such the eighty pupils as Lowood are subjected to cold rooms, poor meals and thin clothing.
Victorian females engaged in leisure activities like other females in subsequent areas. These included reading, embroidery, music and traditional handicraft work like knitting. As Act one begins, we see Vivie seated passing her time while reading and making notes. We also see Jane in the other context pass her time by reading books.
Physical activity or games and sports were present during this time. Popular sports for girls were hockey, golf, tennis and cycling. We find that there is a bicycle propped against the wall under the window a scamper away from where Vivie is reading. This shows the engagement in physical activity through cycling. In the same context we learn that Vivie is learning how to use a rifle through Frank.
The fashion of Victorian women was characterised by dressed and skirts. The hats which were introduced later in the Victorian era also followed the trend towards ostentatious display. Mrs. Warren is a fashionable Victorian woman as she is clad in a ‘brilliant hat’ as the author expounds with s tightly fitting blouse flanked by fashionable sleeves. We also learn that Vivie also owns a hat.
In the Victorian era, women were expected to have sex with only one man, their legally wedded husband. However, if a woman did have sexual contact with another man other than her husband, they were seen as ruined or fallen. The literature and art of the Victorian ear emphasized on this using relevant examples. This was the reason for the cause of alarm by Mrs. Warren when Frank admitted to having ‘made love’ to her daughter, Vivie.
Given that women in this era were not allowed to own property, or rather the ownership of their property was given open-armed to their husbands, Mrs. Warren gets worried on learning that Frank does not own property. Thus in the event that he would marry Vivie, he would have no means of maintaining her.
The art of education brought about a class of radical group of females who criticised the way of life of the Victorian women. Vivie, for instance, critics the authority her mother has over her after she(Mrs. Warren) seemed to impose rights on her since she is her mother. In doing so, dictate her life. Vivie reprimands her and quotes” You attack me with the conventional authority of a mother: I defend myself with the conventional superiority of a respectable woman.” Jane also exhibits this as she begins school. After the endless emotional and mental torture under her aunt, she speaks up for once and says, “ I am not deceitful: if I were, I should say I loved you; but I declare I do not love you: I dislike you the worst of anybody in the world except John Reed; and this book about the liar, you may give to your girl Georgina, for it is she who tells lies, and not I.”
This era was characteristic of diseases. Since women had to serve so as to earn a living, the employment they got was uncomfortable. Mrs. Warren confesses to this when she tells Vivie of her own sister(Anne Jane) who worked in a white lead factory twelve hours a day for nine shillings a week until she died of lead poisoning. In the other context, a disease like Typhus(modern day Tuberculosis) affected a lot of students. More to this, Jane’s friend Helen dies of consumption in her arms.
Later in the Victorian era, women were allowed to own property. Liz, Mrs. Warren’s sister is seen to have saved to take a house for herself in Brussels. Jane is able to save and use that money to travel as far from Thornfield as possible. Later, due to the ability of women to own property, her uncle John Eyre left her an inheritance of 20,000 pounds which became her fortune to do as she pleases with.
The earlier part of the Victorian era did not allow for women to be liberal and present their grievances. However, at the latter stages of the era, liberalists like Vivie came to have their own minds.” I must be treated as a woman of business, permanently single( to Frank) and permanently unromantic( to Praed).” She quotes in the third act. In the other context, Jane criticizes some discrimination based on class. Three of the main male characters, Mr. Rochester, Mr. Brocklehurst and St. John Rivers, try to keep Jane in a subordinate position and prevent her from expressing her own thoughts and feelings. Jane escapes Mr. Brocklehurst and rejects St. John and only marries Mr. Rochester once she is sure that their marriage is one between equals.
In the book Jane Eyre, Mrs. Reed who is Jane’s aunt is given Jane to be under her care as the Victorian era expects. All children are to be inspired and brought up by their mother of which in this case she serves as her mother.
Throughout the Victorian era, respectable employment for women from established middle class families like Jane’s was largely restricted to work as a school teacher or governess. After six years as a student, Jane became a teacher and taught for two years at the same school. After leaving Lowood, she advertises her services as a governess and receives one reply from Alice Fairfax, housekeeper at Thornfield Hall, where she teaches Adele Varens, a young French girl. Later after fleeing Thornfield Hall, St. John finds her a teaching position at a nearby school. His sisters, Diana and Mary, also take up governess positions.
Jane refuses to accompany Mr. Rochester to the south of France and live with him as husband and wife since she would lose her worth in the society during the Victorian era for laying with a man that is not her legal husband. She states that it is because of her “ impassioned self-respect and moral conviction”. He, however had had three mistresses.
In conclusion, through the spread of feminists ideas like through Vivie and Jane who had gained knowledge through education and were now more aware of their rights and less ignorant of the subjections imposed by the era, discriminatory laws were amended and the women revolutions for their rights gained momentum in the last years of the Victorian era.
- Charlotte Bronte. Jane Eyre. Smith, Elder and Company. 16th 1847.
- George Bernard Shaw. Warren’s Profession. Plays: Pleasant and Unpleasant. 1898.
- Woolf, Virginia. ”The Professions of Women” in North Anthology of Literature by Women (2nd Edition)W. Norton & Company. 1996.
- Coventry Patmore. The Angel in the House. 1858.
- Isabella Beeton. Beeton’s Book of Household Management.O. Beeton Publishing. 1861.