What I Learned About Women During the Victorian Era

Throughout this semester, I learned a lot of interesting things about Victorian literature. One thing that I found to be the most compelling is the way female authors wrote about women and women’s issues at the time. I really enjoyed reading how women would bring attention to the way they were being treated, as well as, the different approach these female authors would take in their works about how they were treated. Some were more up front with advocating for women’s rights, and others wrote of the idea more subtly in their works. Additionally, I liked learning how some women would go against what was normal in society and bring attention to the way society treats and perceives them; I liked learning about this and connecting it to today’s time, as well.

To begin, in Martineau’s Society in America, she calls into question the government and how they don’t have the consent of women to make unfair laws that they are forced to abide by. After reading what she had to say, I really admire her bravery for speaking her mind during a time where women didn’t have as many rights. Furthermore, I also find it interesting that what she is saying is still applicable today. Now, women have more rights, but there are still issues when it comes to abortion and the government deciding how much of a right women have to deciding what happens to their bodies.

Another female author we looked at this semester is Mary Ann Evans, who wrote under the name George Eliot. I found it really interesting after I read her review essay in The Leader that she was a woman and not a man. I thought it was disheartening that she felt she had to change her name in what she wrote to be a male name, so that she would not get judged for her beliefs and be taken more seriously. Looking back at this now in today’s time, I can’t imagine what it must be like living in a society that forces a woman to do this. It is also really strange she had to change her name because either way her ideas are exactly the same. Additionally, I find her differing approach from Martineau to be interesting because she isn’t as obvious of an advocate for women’s rights; her ideas are more subtle in that she wants change to occur in a more incremental way than Martineau, who was calling for change in a more urgent way.

The last female author I’ll discuss is Amy Levy. Some may see her as an author who is reinforcing stereotypes about women. For instance, there is a lot of reference to Judith’s beauty in Reuben Sachs, as well as, numerous descriptions of the lavish clothing women wear. Thus, some may see it as Levy reinforcing the idea of the importance of a woman’s looks. Although, when looking more closely at the text, she may be making more of a commentary on how women are portrayed in society, instead. For instance, she writes “But the life, the position, the atmosphere, though she knew it not, were repressive ones. This woman, with her beauty, her intelligence, her power of feeling, saw herself merely as one of a vast crowd of girls awaiting their promotion by marriage” (35). Hence, marriage isn’t written in the most positive light, but instead is “repressive.” As a result, she is subtly making a commentary on how damaging society’s place for women is to them. She also isn’t writing her ideas in an essay format, but through a cohesive story. So, we get her ideas about women through interpreting the characters and we can make our own claims about what we think she was trying to say and advocate for.

All in all, I enjoyed this class and learned a lot about the Victorian Era through the literature we read and discussed. I liked learning about the female authors we looked at and what they had to say about women’s place in society. The differing approaches from the authors was also interesting to learn, as well.

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