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Depiction of women in Victorian Literature

Typical of the era, the depiction of women in Victorian literature was as per the reality during that time. During the Victorian era, women were considered less than a man. They did not have the right to vote, sue or own property. In the last years of the Victorian era, women were allowed to participate in the paid workforce.

Women’s Rights in the Victorian Era

Various discriminatory laws were repealed and feminist ideas were spread among the educated middle class. They were seen by the middle classes, belonging to the domestic sphere. Women’s rights were extremely limited in the Victorian era.

Depiction of women in Victorian literature

When a Victorian girl was married, her rights were legally given over to her spouse.  In the Victorian period, the married couple becomes one entity where the husbands were responsible to control and look after their wives. Their wives were the property of their husbands, giving them the right to their bodies, children, and domestic labour.

A Depiction of Women in Victorian Literature

Right and privileges of victorian women were limited, married as well as non-married women had to suffer a lot, they had to face many hardships both sexually and financially, and endure many inequalities with their social and married life.

They had to endure their husband’s control, cruelty discriminations including sexual violence, verbal abuse, and others. Wives had no right to get over their marriage even if their husbands participated in affairs with other women, as divorce was considered a social too.

With the Victorian era the concept of “pater families”, entrenched in the British culture. Pater families were the families where husbands were the head and moral leader of the family. Whereas wives proper role was to love, honour and obey the path of their husbands.

The Depiction of women in Victorian Literature

A wife’s place was secondary in the family but far from having the secondary place, she was considered a crucial cornerstone of social stability from performing her duties towards her husband and raising the children.

The era was dominated by many writers. And they treated women as angelic figures- innocent, physically weaker and nothing less than household material.

For example, in Edwardian poetry, we can see how the poem speaks of women’s rights gathering much attention, and feminism and females go out leaving things back at home during the war times.

The Portrayal of Women in Some Famous Victorian Literature

The Probationer, by AM Irvine, is one of the best examples of the state of women in the post-Victorian era. The novel even vitrines the characteristics of modern women’s rights by portraying an independent woman protagonist’s professionalism.

Victorian writers with the use of nature and colour imagery have endured the images of women as being angelic. Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market,” Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Lady of Shalott,” and Robert Browning’s “Women and Roses” are some of examples we can see the position of women in the Victorian period.

Depiction of women in Victorian literature
A woman dressed like Victorian times.A voluminous skirt with blouse and headgear.

In Victorian literature, authors portrayed women with the lunar phrases of serenity and purity, whereas, men were defined by the creative forces of the sun. The women were described as being small and weak.

In Robert Browning’s poem “Woman and Roses,” we can see how the speaker compares the ideal woman to a rosebush. Rose imagery is seen throughout the poem to indicate the values of love and passion of women towards their husbands.

Whereas, women’s professional theme can be seen in Charlotte Bronte’s novels. And with Jane Eyre, it can be seen that the most predominant occupation for young girls and women in the middle classes in the Victorian Age was a governess.

Morality and Sexuality of Women in Victorian Literature

Women in the Victorian period were expected to have sex only with one man. i.e. their husband. But it was acceptable for men to have multiple partners in their lives, they had affairs with other women while their wives stayed back at home taking care of the children and doing household chores.

During the Victorian period, sex was not discussed openly and public speaking of sexual encounters was ignored.

Education and Fashion in Victorian Literature

Women were not allowed to seek education, they were expected to marry and perform household and motherly duties. Whereas Victorian women’s clothing emphasized dresses, skirts and a wide volume of layered material such as hoop skirts and heavy fabrics.

New Woman Fiction: Overview of the literary movement focusing on the modern woman and her experiences.

More Info On Victorian Husband and Wife’s DutiesVictorian Era Women’s role and Social status