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An Overview Of Feminism In The Victorian Period

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The Victorian era (1830-1901), named after Queen Victoria, covers the entirety of her reign over the British Empire from 1837 to 1901. Queen Victoria can be described as having great moral responsibility, domestic propriety, and earnestness as the idea of living in an earnest manner was considered one of the topmost ideals during the Victorian age. The citizens of the British Empire mirrored these three key characteristics of the Victorian age in order to embody Queen Victoria. The Mid-Victorian period, lasting from 1848 to 1870, was a time of prosperity for the middle to upper-class Victorians. The primary characterization of the Victorian period lies in the developments of the social and political sectors of Victorian society. In addition, influential writers of the nineteenth century like Charles Dickens wrote books, such as Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol that were rather critical of Victorian society. Victorian women did not have political suffrage despite the efforts of feminists to try to petition parliament. However, the Married Women Property Acts were laws that were enacted that allowed women to be able to divorce their husbands in instances of incest and bestiality. Furthermore, The Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 moved divorce to civil court, allowing for the deserted wife to apply for a protective order to grant her access to her own property. By 1901, women were able to earn degrees from twelve universities; however, they were able to study at Oxford and Cambridge but not earn a degree. The lives of lower-class women were strenuous inside and outside the home due to the fact that they had constant pressure from the industrialized society, the grueling industrial jobs did not pay well, and the majority of them were still servants. Although Victorian women were not granted the same social and political privileges as their male counterparts, it is evident that they were definitely moving towards establishing their presence as women. Through the book, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Dickens showcases the existing Victorian views of women and feminism through the characterization of women in his writing during his time.

Because Queen Victoria lived in a manner that emphasized domesticity, many of her citizens wanted to take on the same characteristics that she embodied even subtracting from the idea of feminism. This can be seen in the way that this directly relates to the absence of feminism and the adherence to the “societal roles” in A Christmas Carol as it can be assumed that Mrs. Crachit is expected to cook an entire meal for her Christmas family dinner family because she is a woman of the family. This demonstrates the idea of domesticity because Mrs. Cratchit feels that she is obligated to fulfill the role of being a woman that stays at home in the kitchen to cook a meal for her family. It is obvious that “Dickens’ fictions favor traditionally feminine values while simultaneously revealing a fantasy of male autonomy”(Colatosti 8) because his view on women projects a fantasy in his mind that females that are expected to stay and work in the kitchen to provide for the needs and wants of men.

Charles Dickens was many things during his time: a master novelist, a political journalist, and an ardent social commentator. However, one thing that he was not was a feminist. It is important to acknowledge why Dickens felt negatively towards women. According to the article titled, “Recent Dickens Studies” written by Joel J. Brattin, Professor Natalie Mcknight believes that “Dickens’ own conscious resentment of his mother, combined with subterranean hostility against women in general, led him to beat, batter, and otherwise torture mothers in his novels”(31). Although mothers in A Christmas Carol are not explicitly physically “tortured”, the fact that his resentment of women more than likely stems from his home life from childhood to adulthood serves as an explanation as to why he does not think very highly of women and much less of feminists as well. According to Tom Winnifrith, ‘’Dickens did not treat woman fairly’ in his life or his fiction”’(Brattin 32); this is evident in A Christmas Carol when the Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge to see his younger self and his ex-fiancée, Belle and allows him to see Belle telling him that she did not want to get married to him because of his newly found trait of greediness. Belle was still in love with the loving and giving person Scrooge once was, and it is not fair to her that Scrooge loved money more than he loved her.

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On the other hand, Belle having the strength to go against the common Victorian ideologies and call off her engagement to Scrooge shows that woman power did exist in the Victorian era, especially when Victorians integrated the notion that men were considered to be the head of the body and women were considered to be the heart of the body into their mindset. The idea of feminism is highlighted as women like Belle “would have to learn to speak out for themselves, if they were to develop their consciousness and move towards more fulfilling lives”(Sherry 17). Even though Victorian men were the individuals that would make the major decisions in their relationships, Belle takes it upon herself to end her engagement to Scrooge to fulfill her happiness, highlighting that “women were not all weak-minded creatures of feeling”(Sherry 9).

The personalities of women in A Christmas Carol can be seen as submissive in a way that their purpose is to serve their male counterparts. “In Dickens’ novels, women’s voices…adhere to the ideal of ‘feminine’ self-denial without crossing the thin line into a potentially liberating space of ‘feminine’ assertiveness, Victorian-style”(Colatosti 8). This can be seen when Mrs. Cratchit, wife of Bob Cratchit, disagrees with her husband’s toast to Scrooge because she believes that Scrooge does not treat Bob well, but she gives in to his toasting anyway as if she did not previously have her own opinion or stance.

Hence, with the previously stated in mind, a connection between the Victorian era’s view on women and feminism and Charles Dickens’ work, A Christmas Carol, can be understood. Such understanding can be reached through the observation of domesticity, Dickens’ personal experiences with women, and the portrayal of women in his writing. Through the eyes of Dickens, the Victorian era contains different ideas on the role of women and how it correlates with the ideology of feminism.

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An Overview Of Feminism In The Victorian Period. (2022, February 26). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 7, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/an-overview-of-feminism-in-the-victorian-period/
“An Overview Of Feminism In The Victorian Period.” Edubirdie, 26 Feb. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/an-overview-of-feminism-in-the-victorian-period/
An Overview Of Feminism In The Victorian Period. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/an-overview-of-feminism-in-the-victorian-period/> [Accessed 7 Dec. 2022].
An Overview Of Feminism In The Victorian Period [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 26 [cited 2022 Dec 7]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/an-overview-of-feminism-in-the-victorian-period/
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