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Feminism is a movement of theories that share the same goal to define, establish and achieve equal political, economic, cultural, personal, and social rights for women that is equal status in education and employment. Feminism was born to defend the rights ad roles of women in society as the development of culture and social norms and values increasingly differentiate women and men. To promote feminism many writers wrote novels, plays, and other literary works and through them, feminism rose. Other ways were adopted to give rise to feminism such as campaigns and so on. But through writing, feminism was becoming a sensitive issue, and once the novelist and playwright, Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Only through writing the mindset of people would change. In Victorian-era women’s plight was of a pity and to change this stereotypical way of living, the famous feminist novelist Jane Austen tried to change the Victorian society through her works by writing the novel Pride and Prejudice which brought drastic change at that time. The Victorian era was also known for another writer, Charles Dickens who does not really talks about feminism but brought forward the complexities, hardships, situations, and malpractices upon which the women were inflicted on and how they survived in his novel. Both Pride and Prejudice and A tale of two cities brings forward the idea of feminism and as G.D Anderson, the Australian activist feminist said, “Feminism is not about making women strong Women are already strong. It’s about changing the way the world perceives the strength.”
In the novel Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen has promote feminism mainly through Elizabeth and other women characters of the novel. It is a novel which tells about a woman who does not have a right in choosing a husband. Based on culture, the inherent will be cousin if there is no son, the woman or girl will get nothing. In this case, a woman is considered as a weak creature. A woman also does not have right in choosing her couple. Friedan states that women went back to their houses to abandon their job to men, this mystique reduced the identity of women to sexual and social passivity. Women have to always bow to their knees in front of men because the men are superior. But in Pride and prejudice, Elizabeth bennet denies this norm. Elizabeth’s romanticism and individualism, Austen presents her heroine’s struggle to find a place within the conservative and social institution of marriage which was included in Victorian society though of her rebellious nature. During Elizabeth’s struggle, it is to be noted that she also beings to emerge as a feminist character. When Elizabeth meets with Lady Catherine de Bourgh when the Lady visits Elizabeth’s home, Lady de Bourgh confronts Elizabeth about her relationship with Mr. Darcy during which Elizabeth says to Lady de Bourgh “he is a gentleman; I am a gentleman’s daughter; so far we are equal”. This is the first time in the novel that Elizabeth can truly be portrayed as a feminist character. Feminism is an experiment that equates women and men equal, and this moment when Elizabeth declares herself equal to Mr. Darcy is when Elizabeth emerges as the feminist that had already been highlighted in the previous chapters. From the beginning of the novel, Elizabeth was merely an outspoken woman with many opinions to express and unafraid of being suppressed by those around her. She never truly equated herself with men or her oppressors, she never truly paved a true road for herself with her own virtues and ideas for success for her future, unlike Charlotte Lucas did by marrying Mr. Collins with only intentions of living a comfortable life. Feminism during that time is much different from how it has evolved to the present time and a perfect example of a feminist during the era would be Charlotte Lucas. Charlotte can be seen as a feminist instead of Elizabeth during the first chapters of Pride and Prejudice because of her ability to make firm decisions for herself not based on wanting solely to live for her husband’s every want and need.
Furthermore, Jane Austen deals with neither the aristocracy at the top nor the poor. She analyses the clashes between the two groups. Since this class was not required to work, its occupations were mainly social, dinners and balls. Girls belonging to this class were not educated for any profession. But they were expected to be accomplished in music, drawing, dancing, needlework, etc. Since women could not legally inherit their parents’ property, in case they did not marry, they had no economic security. An aging spinster was, in most cases, neither respected nor properly cared for. Hence the principal aim of girls was to get married to eligible bachelors. According to Mary Wollstonecraft, “women are naturally not weaker than men, but they seem weak they have low education.” Education is the solution to this mental problems and at that time girls were not allowed to receive any education. For example, Lady Catherine asks Elizabeth. She wants to know who Elizabeth’s teacher is. Actually, Elizabeth does not have a teacher. Then, Lady Catherine is surprised when she hears the answer of Elizabeth. However, his husband, Darcy is an educated man. In this case, there is inequality gender in the form of education. The man has right for learning and studying well in an education institution while the woman has no rights for learning and studying like man. Fortunately, Elizabeth struggle to face the discrimination. She omits her stupidity by only reading. Elizabeth is a feminist who can fight to go out from the stereotype that woman is weak and stupid. She can oppose patriarchal system by learning and studying through reading. On top of that, all the female characters except Elizabeth conclude that if a woman has mastered all her duties of becoming a good wife she has become a perfect lady except the skill of education that was considered as a waste of time.
Mr. Darcy also supports the idea of The Perfect lady. Darcy’s wanting of a ‘handsome one’ shows the mentality of the men from the English upper classes who think themselves the superior ones to the women and the women should be as handsome and tempting as they want not only the men, the upper-class women were also used to categorize other women. So, Mr. Darcy is like the other man of the society despite being presented as a nice gentleman. However, upon seeing Elizabeth coming alone on the streets, sweating having her dress and shoes wet in the mud his opinion about women change. He sees Elizabeth as the one who dares to challenge the norms and regulations that were meant for women only. “To walk three miles, or four miles, or five miles, or whatever it is, above her ankles in dirt, and alone, quite alone! What could she mean by it? It seems to me to show an abominable sort of conceited independence, a most country-town indifference to decorum.
The quotation above tells that Elizabeth is an independent woman. She is a representation of a strong girl. However, he can walk lonely for five miles. The road is slippery because of the rain. Moreover, in the story, the woman is neglected by her husband, William Darcy. Darcy does not want to accompany her and he also does not care to Elizabeth. Darcy’s attitude shows that it is the representation of woman discrimination. Although the woman gets discrimination from the men, she can act as a strong woman. She can do what the man cannot do. Furthermore, the woman in the story is physically stronger than the man. The man is nothing to do but the woman can walk alone on a far road. This is the reflection of feminist. A Feminist can go out from her house while man can go out from his house although she has to go lonely.
Austen has created the character Elizabeth in a feminist way to reveal the atrocities that are being done to women. By reading and analysing Elizabeth’s character, women starts realizing their worth, and to support feminism many writers wrote about the changing feminism society. The first book devoted to Austen as a feminist is Margaret Kirkham’s Jane Austen, Feminism and Fiction, which argues that Austen dramatizes the concerns of feministic enlightenment of her day like Mary Wollstonecraft. Elizabeth’s criticism and mockery of men in the novel express her views on a patriarchal society, explicated by Marxist Feminist theory. The concept of Marxist Feminism, discussed by Donovan, is based on a patriarchal view of the world that is the society is controlled by men. He explains that women are always looked upon down and with feminism, the status of women will rose up and this was possible only through literary works. He further says that women are at the mercy of men. But Elizabeth does not respond to this statement. She fights against this patriarchal society and is successful in persuading Mr. Darcy, a powerful male figure, to change his worldview and over women. Although Austen’s criticism of society still follows in a feminist literary tradition, her character portrayal illustrates an ever-changing personality that would fight against the stupid and evil norms of the society.
Another Writer who wrote about women’s deterioration is Charles Dickens. In his novel A Tale of Two Cities, he wrote about women’s situations and their difficulties to abide to the rule in the male dominant society. The women in the novel are a mere reflection of the women characters in Pride and Prejudice except Elizabeth. As both novels are written in the Victorian era, they possess the same traits of women presented in the society at that time. Women during the time of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ had a very specific role in society. Regardless of social class, women were expected to marry, obey their husbands, and rear children. Very rarely did women hold jobs and most stayed at home. However, women did play a vital role in the French Revolution participating in the brutal mob actions and often inciting riots of their own. Lucie Manette is the daughter of Doctor Manette and Dickens representation of the perfect woman. Lucie is a compassionate young woman. Dickens describes his own view on her father saying “She was the golden thread that united him to a Past beyond his misery, and to a Present beyond his misery: and the sound of her voice, the light of her face, the touch of her hand, had a strong beneficial influence with him almost always”. Dickens presented Lucie in a way that a woman should be and this was not the case in society. Her presence alone has a positive influence on her father. Not only is she loved by her father but also by ‘hundreds of men’ because of her sweetness nature, says Miss Pross, the most significant being Charles Darnay, and Sydney Carton. Lucie has such an influence on Sydney Carton that he is no longer the same person he was at the beginning of the story. His love for her leads him to sacrifice his life so that Lucie and Darnay can be together. Lucie is Dicken’s perfect representation of both how he believed women should be and how society believed women should be. A man should be attracted to a woman not by her talent but by her intelligence and calm and sweet nature just in the case of Sydney Carton. He loves Lucie so much that he dies for her so as to always remain in her heart for eternity.
On the contrary, Madame Defarge is a totally different kind of woman. Being the wife of a leader of the rebellion, Madame Defarge is deeply twisted in the Revolution. Throughout the book, she has seen knitting, and at first glance, this would appear as a normal womanly duty. However, Madame Defarge is not knitting a scarf or sweater but rather knitting a list of people she believes must die for the Revolution to be successful. By taking Madame Defarge’s knitting and making it an act intended to incite violence, Dickens shows us that she is a perversion of a normal woman. Madame Defarge is also obsessed with revenge. Her brother was killed by the Evremonde family and because of that, she is consumed with hatred. She resolves to kill all the Evremonde family including Darnay and his new wife Lucie. Her hatred would be Lucie’s death. When Madame Defarge goes to kill Lucie, she finds Miss Pross and after a fight between them, Madame Defarge is killed by her own gun. The actions and personality of Lucie and Madame Defarge are crucial to understanding what happens to each of them at the end of the novel. Lucie was only good to people and as a result, she marries the man she loves. Madame Defarge is only vengeful and hateful. The malice she has and desire for revenge cause her to die at the hand of Miss Pross. Dickens purposely does this to illustrate how when women act the way they should, they will find happiness. Consequently, if a women behaves in a manner that is unbecoming she will only have bad fortune.
Dickens also portrays the other women in the novel as either nurturing life or destroying it. Mothers play an especially important role in this sense, as Dickens differentiates between natural and unnatural mothers. Women such as Darnay’s mother, Madame Evrémonde, and Lucie’s mother, Madame Manette, represented mothers who die young but leave their children with a sense of conscience and love. Madame Evrémonde’s exhortations to Darnay to atone for the family’s wrongdoing, for instance, motivate him to risk his life in order to help others. Lucie is also a natural mother, nurturing her daughter and protecting her from harm.
The women of Monseigneur’s court, however, represent unnatural mothers, who care so little for their children that they push them off on wet nurses and nannies and pretend that the children don’t even exist. Similarly, Dickens portrays even the mothers of Saint Antoine who do nurture their children as unnatural in the fact that they can spend the day as part of a vicious mob killing and beheading people and then return home smeared with blood to play with their children. The behaviors of both the aristocratic and the peasant women are destructive in that they either create an environment that lacks love and guidance or they guide the next generation into further anger and violence.
While Lucie has got nice and angel children just like herself and tends them with love and concern, Madame Defarge has no children, an absence which ironically connects her with the aristocratic women whom Dickens also criticizes for lacking maternal affection through his portrayal of his female characters. His perspective of women were highly influenced by his time period and by the women who were in his life. Dicken’s female characters in this novel show his attitude towards women and what qualities he finds most admirable and deplorable. Dickens believes that women have their place in society but that does not mean he thought they were not important. Lucie and Madame Defarge heavily influence those people around them. Lucie influences Darnay, Carton, and her father. Madame Defarge influences her husband and other revolutionaries such as Jacques three. Lastly, Dickens refers to the guillotine as “the figure of the sharp female”. Dickens, in this instance, is acknowledging women influenced the killings just as much as the men did.
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