Literature, poetry, and non-fiction writing from the nineteenth century display the Victorian fascination with gender and gender roles. Determining what made a man a man, and a woman a woman, was relevant to them. Victorians associated women with purity, morality, gentleness, but also instability, fluidity, and hysteria. This sense of what a woman was lead many Victorians to also believe that women were more susceptible to fits, madness, and lunacy. Comparing a Punch editorial entitled “The Superiority of the Male Sex” to Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, I intend to suggest that while the connection between women and the moon led to overgeneralization that women were more likely to go mad, Collins’ work suggests deviation from this close-mindedness.
My chosen source is a magazine article, “The Model Mother,” from volume 15 of Punch, accompanied by a small illustration of a plump Victorian woman in full dress sitting upright in an armchair. It was published during the same year as Anne Brontё’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall: 1848. I am using these sources to compare contemporary views regarding child-raising, both public ideals and private notions, the latter of which is described by Brontё’s Helen Graham and Mrs Markham in chapter three of the novel; the controversy is over whether one should enable their child “the circumstance of being able and willing to resist temptation; or that of having no temptation to resist?”
Significantly, both the novel and article reflect middle-class ideals; Helen and the Markham family are middle-class characters and Punch was tailored to a middle-class readership. However, they agree with one another only to an extent. Punch is likely an unreliable source when researching theories of child-raising since it is intended for “clean Continue reading →
While Wilkie Collins was in the early stages of writing The Woman in White, the 36th volume of Punch, published in 1859, included an untitled cartoon portraying a plump man speaking to an even plumper lady in a sitting room while an average-weighted maid passes in the background. The inscription below reads: Stout Gent. “Dear! Dear! So he has formed an attachment that you don’t approve of! Ah! Well, there’s always something. Depend upon it, Ma’am, there’s a skeleton somewhere in every house!” (Punch 101). Within this cartoon, there is a double entendre in which both meanings pertain to the themes of obesity and secrecy in Woman in White and their relation to the character of Count Fosco. Continue reading →
Charles Dickens’ Bleak House is social problem novel, regarding the terrible conditions for those living in Victorian England and a scathing critique of those among society who remained indifferent on the subject, particularly those whom Dickens’ felt concerned themselves with “telescopic philanthropy,” that is, charity with a narrowed focus on issues external to Britain, rather than issues closer to home (Dickens 52). One of the charitable targets of Dickens’ criticisms was Caroline Chisholm, the founder of the Family Colonization Loan Society, a foundation that “transferred Great Britain’s poor, unemployed and starving from the slums of London, Liverpool, Manchester, and other Continue reading →
The Victorian era saw many married women reduced to domestic subservience to husband and family. The period valued middle and upper class women in the restrictive dichotomy of “Angel in the House” versus “Fallen Woman,” and Queen Victoria provided a romanticized version of the privileged binary (Abrams). However, the “Angel in the House” was an inherently oppressed being; as Victorian feminist Barbara Leigh-Smith Bodichon reported, “A man and wife are one person in law; the wife loses all her rights…her body belongs to her husband” (24). Wives were thus vulnerable to abuse from legally omnipotent husbands, as reflected in Punch’s 1950 satirical cartoon “Little Lessons for Little Ladies” and Anne Brontë’s 1948 novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Continue reading →
The work which I analyzed is the article “Torture of the English According to Law!” published in Punch volume 24 in 1853 (the same year Bleak House was published). This article appealed to me immediately not only because of its content but because of the derisive tone which the unknown author assumes.
Using superlatives and excessive metaphor, the author critiques the legal system in England. Specifically taking offense at the abuse of the English language that is manifested in the writing of English law and it’s “cumulative absurdities” which (according to the author of the article) only lawyers are able to understand. This directly mirrors the viewpoint of the disembodied narrator in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House. The narrator has no patience for the hallowed institution of the law, and instead compares it to fashion which “are things of precedent and usage” (Dickens 20). Mr. Tulkinghorn is the first legal authority introduced into the narrative and the narrators description of his physical appearance suggests much about the opinion of the man himself, “Mute, close and irresponsive, his dress is like himself” (Dickens 23). As the novel progresses, Mr. Continue reading →