Representations of Women in The Mayor of Casterbridge and Our Mutual Friend

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It is useless to examine how women are represented in these texts and their literary uses without considering Dickins and Hardy’s attitudes to the women in their society. As all great writers do, whether absentmindedly or purposely, let their personal opinions taint their characters. Charles Dickens throughout many of his earlier works shows a clear pattern of disdain for the ‘fallen women’ and has a clear idea of what a proper Victoria lady should be, later in Our Mutual Friend his ideals are loosening but still conveys through Lizzie how a disadvantageous lady can still be proper and is deserving of redemption. Hardy’s novel The Major of Casterbridge is an interesting case where it shows the evolution of women from typical Victorian wife to a more modern woman with desires and ambitions of her own. Each character represents a different type of woman evolving in the Victorian era as well as the priorities and morals valued at the time. The three women hardy uses to show this evolution as well as convey his opinions of omen at the time are Susan Henchard, Elizabeth jane Newson, and Lucetta Templeman. The Major contrast between the female characters in dickens and Hardy’s novels is the author's approach to their characters is their attitudes towards them.

Susan Henchard is the embodiment of a typical submissive Victorian age woman, she is meek, controlled by her husband, and mindlessly ignores her husband’s drunken behaviour and rants. She is presented as a plain-looking woman and as with many women of this period she as relatively uneducated and so when her husband in an inebriated state sells her to the highest bidder she docilely goes with him. This shows that at the time women were treated as commodities to be bought and sold with Dowry’s like livestock. Her only drive in life is her daughter’s wellbeing, and as she is going with her new sailor her only condition is her daughter as Michael Henchard states, “But she is willing, providing she can have the child. She said so only the other day when I talked o’t” (Hardy, 10) ('The Evolution Of Women In The Mayor Of Casterbridge By Thomas Hardy - Essay - 1412 Words - Brightkite.Com')Susan does not seem to recognise the illegality of this transaction and has no thoughts of her own and it is only later as she shares her plight with a neighbour she realizes she had no obligation to leave her husband just based on his drunken transaction. ('The Evolution Of Women In The Mayor Of Casterbridge By Thomas Hardy - Essay - 1412 Words - Brightkite.Com') The way Susan is represented also opens up the very familiar pattern of men blaming the women around them for their messes. In this case, when Henchard wakes up the next morning he does not blame his blatant alcoholism and abuse, but he blames Susan’s simple-mindedness and her lack of self-awareness for his mess. ('The Social Role And Treatment Of Women In Thomas Hardy's 'The Mayor Of Casterbridge') This representation of Susan as a commodity carries on throughout the novel up to and including her marriage to Henchard for the second time. It resurfaces when he includes the exact change he sold her for in a note to her when she first arrives, and the way he writes his letter at his desk seems very transactional.

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Lucetta is a woman for today’s age, reading her today makes her crimes seem inconsequential but in the time period were the height of the scandal. But it is the details that show where hardy agreed with her actions or condemned them. Although her secret is exposed to the village it is not hardy’s will to shame women like Lucetta for her deeds, instead, he seems to be shaming society as a whole and how they treated her, he is condemning them not the ‘fallen woman’. This representation of Lucetta differs greatly from Dickens' opinions on fallen women whom he seems to have a personal distaste for. Lucetta is described as a high society woman, she has a knowledge of various languages and she incredibly intelligent with ambitions of her own which is unusual in itself. Her intelligence is portrayed through her knowledge of public perception manipulation. She hides her French language skills because although they are a sign of her intelligence and proper upbringing she is also aware that at the time French women were seen as temptress’ and seductive. ('Lucetta In The Mayor Of Casterbridge'). As well as this, deceit she is also credited by others as using her fashion as disguises. She is described as changing dresses and portraying that “you are that totally different person” (Hardy, 191). Lucetta knows how to play the PR game. ('LUCETTA LE SUEUR / MISS TEMPLEMAN')

Elizabeth ane. Had more urgency than her mother, portray a more modern wone who is learning, simple-minded, wants to get married and have a typical life. Elizabeth-Jane is Hardy's common ground of the novel, she is not as submissive and controlled by the system as her mother but she also lacks Lucettas intelligence and ambition. She is not as invisible as her mother and not ridiculed to the extent of Lucetta. Even though she seems to have more power than her mother her misfortunes and control still come from Henchard as the male dominant in her social circle. As soon as he legally becomes her father to his marriage to Susan he immediately begins to contort her into his and societies version of an acceptable lady, changing her clothes, her appearance, and through education even goes to ridiculing her handwriting. He even goes as far as controlling her acceptable social ays by trying to get her to change her last name ('The Social Role And Treatment Of Women In Thomas Hardy's 'The Mayor Of Casterbridge'). This representation of Elizarh shows a different des to women in society, she is not meek and inviting of the control and not like Lucetta doing everything to work around dit, Elizabeth seems to b quite alive to it until it begins to happen to her. Hardy uses his novel to highlight how women were treated in Victorian society especially when they on not conform to the subordinate housewife stereotype. His characters contrast to dickens show how he viewed women his own society.

In the early Dickens' novel, his female characters were either sorted into two types of women: angels or monsters (Kayama). It isn’t until he creates our mutual friend that he loosens these types and allowed a grey area between and he maneuvers this space with Lizzie. Lizzie is in no doubt dickens ideal woman, she is loyal to a fault, caring as she nurses Eugene back to health, unwavering in her affections and eventually marries him despite his disability. SAHE IS STEADFAST N A WORL Dickens views as full of vices. Lizzie is so kind that she remains devoted to the man that made her upbringing full of hardships and empty of affections. .She believes she can find the good in everyone, stands by her father when he is accused of murder, and stands by him even when all the evidence is portraying the contrary as well as the job she despises giving him the mesas. It is Lizzie's role in the novel to redeem her father and Eugene, her role is to be a literary device to further the plots of the men around her. Obviously, Dickens believes a good wife, or female figure in general, should be there to supports the men in their lives. however, reading it today leaves many readers with an issue with the fact that dickens wastes her entire life lifting up men like her father without any urgency or ambitions of her own. (Franchi)

All these characters are trapped by the social acceptability of their actions, each woman at their core is different, driven by different compulsions with different intended outcomes but overall three of the four women conform to patriarchal society and are redeemable. Lucetta being the outlier is the majorly different representation of women, that does not conform and becomes tortured because of it. The difference is the author's reaction to this type of women, hardy is not criticizing her but for society, whereas dickens with this kind of woman would have decimated her character and represented her as a low line to contrast hardy’s version. These different representations show just how different Dickens and Hardy’s views of women were. Hardy believed women were equal had respect for them, he could be considered a small sort of feminist, as much as one could be in that era which is seen through his female characters and treatment of Lucetta. Dickens is a different story. Some that have studied dickens think he was a misogynist that abuses his female characters, supported by his ideal of what a proper woman should be. The stereotype that a woman’s place was at home raising children, that wives should loyal and unblinkingly support their husbands, and should be utterly subordinate is the epitome of his views, backed up by his utter condemning of women who became self-reliant and received personal incomes through prostitution. ('The Woman Question')

Works Cited

  1. 'The Woman Question.' Dickens & the Victorian City. Web. 28 Jan. 2018.
  2. Kayama, Haruno. 'Cite A Website - Cite This For Me.' Web. 25 Jan. 2018.]
  3. The Evolution Of Women In The Mayor Of Casterbridge By Thomas Hardy - Essay - 1412 Words - Brightkite.Com.' Web. 26 Jan. 2018.
  4. 'The Social Role And Treatment Of Women In Thomas Hardy's 'The Mayor Of Casterbridge'.' N.p., 2003. Web. 21 Jan. 2018.
  5. 'Lucetta In The Mayor Of Casterbridge.' Web. 28 Jan. 2018. LUCETTA LE SUEUR / MISS TEMPLEMAN.'
  6. Mr Henneman's language and literature pages. Web. 24 Jan. 2018. Hardy, Thomas.
  7. The Life And Death Of The Major Of Casterbridge. London: Macmillan, 1920. Print. Dickens, Charles.
  8. Our Mutual Friend. New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1866. Print. Franchi, Barbara.
  9. 'Of Dickens, Women And Metropolises: Our Mutual Friend.' bloggingbooksforlife. N.p., 2014. Web. 26 Jan. 2018.
  10. 'Lizzie Hexam In Our Mutual Friend.' Web. 28 Jan. 2018.
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