Words are whetting stones of a revolution in which literature has an imperative role to play. The Victorian literature reinforces the ‘supposedly’ ordered and stable societal state which is governed by a strict code of conduct that was extended to all walks of life in such a way that it bolstered the patriarchal hangup tremendously. As men were honoured with all the titles and privileges, women mostly succumbed to the conformity of the societal norms as they always kept fixating on the positives. They were always beset by a constant state of dread and compromise as original thinking and creativity on part of women besides any household duties was not only frowned upon but also discouraged, which ultimately utterly burnt them out.
However, on one hand we see women who were immaculate, virtuous, submissive, modest, always concealing to their intelligence and abilities and leaving the important matters of science, philosophy, politics and business to ‘more intelligent’ and ‘better informed’ gentlemen. They never expressed their intelligence, independence or strong character as it would be to compromise on their femininity. On the other hand there’s always a kind that refuses to capitulate to the orders of the social convention. The latter is usually too busy being headstrong, too smart for their historical situation, cantankerous and being the bread winner or taking up the kind of jobs to defile the norms against the dictation of the society. This is the kind I’m in an absolute awe of! (and I’m pretty sure every woman today is?)
From my last read, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, I absolutely adore how Josephine March always looked after her younger siblings and was always their pillar of strength which was a classic sign of love and affection (which she facetiously declined). Being a female, she took care of all the chores outside the house, she took pride in being the ‘male’ of the family as she accomplished all the required duties in the absence of her father. However, unlike her genteel sisters, she didn’t take penchant for the duties ideal for her like household chores, and never did she take a liking for the beautiful silk gowns or delicate lace or satin gloves. Jo always pushed against the strictures imposed on the women of her time as she was rather outdoorsy: she went loitering about the streets in her straight pants and her messy hair tied into a bun breathing in the crispy air and reading in the shade of trees or walking through the shrubberies. She was ambitious enough and was a benevolent reader. She wanted to pursue a career in writing at a time when women weren’t deemed fit to possess any intellect. I’ve always felt that female Victorian authors in portrayal of such characters represent a mirror image of what they yearned to be. She broke the stereotype that girls her age professed when she turned down the love of her best friend and instead married a modest but impoverished professor and also gave up her beautiful hair that she had a deep seated predilection, just for to cater to the financial needs of her family.
She’s broken the stigma of being the ‘ideal’ women so beautifully that women not only sympathise with her, but find in her a reflection of themselves even today, giving the hopes to an otherwise gloomy conditions that exist even a couple hundred years later!