Academic journal article K@ta

Aggression or Regression: A Comparative Study of Heroines in the Mill on the Floss and Pride and Prejudice

Academic journal article K@ta

Aggression or Regression: A Comparative Study of Heroines in the Mill on the Floss and Pride and Prejudice

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Not unrelated to the well-known Victorian ideology of the rational man's superiority over woman's emotional inferiority, was the conflict Victorian female characters of considerable mental capacity faced: those with a man's mind and a woman's might; a conflict definitely felt by such female novelists as Jane Austen (1775-1817) and George Eliot (1819-1880). Austen was self-divided: on the one hand she felt fascinated with feeling and imagination, and on the other she could not accept it as feminine. The conservative Jane Austen then decided to resolve the conflict (of her characters) and her own anxiety of the "desire for assertion in the world and retreat into the security of the home-speech and silence, independence and dependency" (Gilbert and Gubar, 2000, p. 162). Believing in the Hegelian view that history was progressive and towards betterment, Austen could find no better resolution than marriage in her realist novels where her female characters change just to become fit for their expected Victorian gender roles.

Accordingly, the Austen heroine needs morality which, in Correa's words, "consists in her [the heroine's] misfortunes and vicissitudes [...] brought about as a consequence of social convention" (2000, p. 66). Anderson believes that, in Austen, "happiness or suffering depends on moral action, not accident" (1975, p. 372), and Tomlinson states that "however spirited and independent by nature the heroines of many nineteenth-century novels may be, their position in life forces them into a kind of idleness and subject" (1978, p. 115). From these statements it is well understood that Austen educates her heroines into social morality, experience and decorum so that they can meet the male society's demands and expectations. Remaining silent and observant of a male community where usually a male character takes the trouble of educating the heroine, seems "necessary for [...] submission" which "reinforces women's subordinate position in patriarchal culture" (Gilbert and Gubar, 2000, p. 154).

Despite the fact that Austen was a critique of her society-she had to publish her works anony-mously-and a feminist writer, the criticism does not seem strong in her, and the feminism of the novels not explicit. Criticism in Austen's successor is a different story. Mary Ann (or Marian) Cross who published under the name of George Eliot, was a romantic novelist who would defend individualism in her novels. Comparing her with the realist Austen, Eliot can be named a modern novelist and a more serious critique of the society. George Eliot's words in Felix Holt are noteworthy: "no private life which has not been determined by a wider public life" (as cited in Correa, 2000, p. 280). This implies that Eliot was well aware of the social world of Victorian expectations of gender roles, sexual codes and familial ties supporting the main ideologies that would leave the heroine with no chance, whatsoever, to remain an individual or survive at all. A more exact definition for society seems necessary before approaching the main stream of the discussion.

Ingham provides us with the following definitions: "as (rightfully) groups of patriarchal families" (1996, p. 19); a "competing and conflicting linguistic coding" (ibid.); "a necessary struggle for existence" (1996, p. 12) and finally "a machine and human beings as its parts" (ibid.). Correa's definition is similar: "the networks of gossiping neighbors" (2000, p. 279) and a network can be a stifling circle. From the society's perspective, marriage is fortune; a "complex engagement between the marrying couple and society-that is, it means not only "feelings" but "property" as well. In marrying, the individual marries society as well as his mate, and "property" provides the necessary articles of this other marriage" (Ghent, 1961, p. 102). This represents the ideological function of marriage in the Victorian novel however, marriage finds totally different forms in George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss (1860) and Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1813). …

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