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The Ways to Conquer the Victorian Doctrine of Thomas Hardy’s and Elizabeth Gaskell’s Heroines

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The authors, Thomas Hardy in ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ (TOTD) and Elizabeth Gaskell in ‘North and South’ (NAS) convey their female protagonists as independent women who brim with confidence and reject the expectations of Victorian womanhood. Interestingly, in TOTD, Hardy does not convey Tess as a saintly paragon nor in NAS does Gaskell include experiences of serendipity in Margaret’s life but both authors allow their female protagonists to be as realistic and relatable. Through this Tess Durbeyfield and Margaret Hale adopt the virtues of a heroine. Hardy and Gaskell present their characters’ compelling attitudes who rebel against the female stereotype whilst suffering a series of catastrophes. This is conveyed when Tess unintentionally impaled the family horse, Prince and the series of deaths that occur in Margaret’s beloved members. The subsidiary texts of ‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Bronte and ‘Agnes Grey’ by Anne Bronte equally explore the treatment of females as they persevere in their journey of being a Governess and experience different notions of struggles during their personal discovery. Both intelligent and educated women discover how to live and cope with the unruly oppressions around them such as Agnes being felt defeated after the mistreatment from The Bloomfield’s family and Jane being humiliated by her deceased uncle’s wife and children, The Reed family. My main argument of this essay will be how Hardy’s and Gaskell’s main protagonists become heroines in their own way by conquering the Victorian doctrine.

Injustice and fate are depicted throughout the entirety of TOTD and NAS which mirrors the social situation during their time as in the Victorian era women were seen but not heard. The authors use their protagonists to act as a force against society’s indifference. Injustice is first displayed in chapter four of TOTD when Tess takes the family’s horse, Prince, out for a walk but later unintentionally causes his death after falling asleep in the wagon. Tess is immediately awoken, staring at Prince while crying out in devastation – Hardy presents her overwhelming feeling of guilt and sorrow which foreshadows later events of unfair coincidences that occur in her life. The death of Prince plays a great impact on Tess’s family’s economic liabilities in which Hardy explicitly tells the reader. Prince was the Durbeyfield’s only hope of bringing wealth to the household as it was their only form of transport and manual labour they had to buy and sell goods. Now, without Prince, Tess is driven by immense remorse and understands that she must make amends and find a new way to bring income to the family.

Similarly, the essence of the character Margaret Hale in NAS also embodies flaws and imperfection in her life as she has many deaths to endure. This is expressed through the death of Bessy Higgins who Margaret meets on the streets of the industrial town, Milton and adored and spent a lot of time with. Bessy who was suffering from a wasting disease, comments on how death is escapism from her working-class life which will relieve her pain and suffering. Bessy is Here, the use of religious imagery of which is reference to heavenly land in the bible, is juxtaposed to Bessy’s lack of religious faith as she also questions The use of euphemism surrounding death foreshadows the later midst of chaos and deaths that Margaret must witness and overcome. Furthermore, Gaskell makes religion a recurrent theme in the novel as it helps Margaret to overcome the boundaries by clinging onto her faith in God. While everyone has of religion, for Margaret, religion serves a sense of purposefulness and security knowing that there is an answer to every dilemma.

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NAS’ female heroine, Margaret transgresses from the rustic world of the South, Helstone to the industrialised world of the North, Milton where she breaks free against the prejudices and norms of the conventional patriarchal society. Progressively, Margaret adopts a new identity of a passionate and rebellious female who has the urge to create a social change after witnessing the suffering of sickness and poverty. This is shown by forming friendships with the local mill workers and finding ways to improve the mental and physical well-being of the citizens. This is also led by Margaret’s sad fate which empowers herself to take on a lot more responsibility. At the beginning of the novel, Margaret is struck by the shocking news from her father, Mr. Hale that he will have to leave the idyllic village, Helstone, the place Margaret greatly favours as and as he. The use of alliteration of and shows Margaret’s admiration of her town that she must say farewell to due to her father’s decision to leave the church. Gaskell has enhanced Margaret’s strong traits in contrast to her self-conscious and doubtful father to signify Margaret’s heavy responsibilities and ironically taking on the authority role. The use of religious imagery implies Mr. Hale is a strong believer and fulfils Margaret’s overwhelming question – as she fears her father is losing faith in theology after the shocking announcement. The announcement is what unfolds the story and is the first example that shows Margaret has undertaken the duty of a male when Mr. Hale desperately asks Margaret to break the news to her mother and with a and agreed.

In parallel to NAS, Hardy presents conflict in Tess, as she is mistreated and seduced by Alec which leads to her being pregnant and giving birth to a sickly infant, Sorrow. Injustice is portrayed as Tess wishes her baby to be baptized. Despite her child being an she embraces the maternal figure role and perseveres to save her child. With her father’s lack of support, Tess grows fearful for the health of her child which eventually makes Tess become assertive and positions herself as a religious figure to baptize her child – The euphemism of religion contradicts to Hardy’s theological life as Hardy abandoned his faith in Christianity and was an agnostic. However, Tess is struck by another unfortunate situation as her baby did not survive but Tess is presented as calm and composed– Here, Hardy creates a strong and firm character in Tess who endures the fate that life has dealt her. Ultimately, Tess is not an archetypal heroine, but instead a sympathetic and tragic heroine who snared the readers with her intellectual charms with resilience and her own death at the end is touching.

In conclusion, it should be noted that both Hardy and Gaskell use injustice and class structures to place our attention away from the character’s personal experiences but on wider issues and context.

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The Ways to Conquer the Victorian Doctrine of Thomas Hardy’s and Elizabeth Gaskell’s Heroines. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 30, 2023, from
“The Ways to Conquer the Victorian Doctrine of Thomas Hardy’s and Elizabeth Gaskell’s Heroines.” Edubirdie, 25 Aug. 2022,
The Ways to Conquer the Victorian Doctrine of Thomas Hardy’s and Elizabeth Gaskell’s Heroines. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 30 May 2023].
The Ways to Conquer the Victorian Doctrine of Thomas Hardy’s and Elizabeth Gaskell’s Heroines [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Aug 25 [cited 2023 May 30]. Available from:
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