Dickens’s Attitudes Toward Women In the early nineteenth century, women were the sole possession of the male in charge. Trained to be elegant and submissive, wives were merely there to compliment their husbands and their families in general. However females presented themselves depicted the line from which they came, and their mannerisms functioned as a representation of the man with which they lived. These sorts of practices were typical in the 1800’s, and women seemed to be more of a source of entertainment, distraction, and satisfaction than anything else.
Not before the mid-1840s did Dickens begin to view society in its organic wholeness. (Johnson) In short, Dickens opinions and attitudes directed towards women spring from an abundance of practiced and implied social and political laws accumulated over hundreds of years. In my eyes, Dickens seems to have a small amount of hidden admiration for women within his twisted, male-centered, idealistic mind; as we would say today. Despite the naive, witless, and helpless nature he bestows upon women in his literature, he still manages to shroud a part of the female spirit in mystery.
Most of Dickens’s views on women come straight from the society of his day, but he leaves the door of curiosity and imagination open when it comes to exploring the mind of a woman, and even considering her thoughts on a subject in Barnaby Rudge. Even though he seems as if he may be open to some futuristic ideas in his literature, Charles Dickens is grounded in his social and political upbringing where society rules. In my opinion, the society of the 1800’s was extremely flawed, even more so than the society of our current day.
The first subject I am going to cover is over the domestic duties of women, both in Dickens’s time, and our own. In the 1800’s, women were primarily meant for the home. Upper class women rarely ventured out unless it was for some kind of fancy ball or other fanciful activity. In that day, young women were brought up with a puritanical collection of hobbies. Ladies of the house were so often encouraged to keep themselves looking pleasant, one could consider it a hobby. Since women in a family were paraded as a visual portrayal of the man of the household, the male population of the time held it in high esteem.
Other hobbies that could occupy the time of an upper class woman would be reading, painting, singing or playing an instrument. Women were brought up in home where they were taught to do all these things with graceful ease. Being graceful and beautiful was first and foremost to an upper class woman. Representing her heritage was a woman’s job, and her main duty was to be the one that kept family life lively and harmonic. As for lower class women, domestic service was the largest single employment through the nineteenth century up until the First World War. Landow) Domestic servants were divided into two groups: upper and lower class. Only a number of homes in the day were able to keep upper class domestic servants such as a butler, or housekeeper, as well as lower class domestic servants such as a laundress, or stable boy. (Wojtczak) For those who could afford the helping hand, housemaids were most common in the early nineteenth century upper class home. Their duties commonly consisted of cleaning, cooking, and tending to the patrons of the house.
When it comes to my viewpoint on the subject, I’m positive many individuals would agree this is not the era we live in today. Women are no longer inclined to illustrate their family lines through their behavior, though few may find it to be a respectful tradition. Putting the idea of upper and lower class far behind us, the current, every day woman has to be independent and work for her own income. Even after marriage, some women still attain finances for the family by playing the role of a working wife and on occasion, mother.
I understand the social and cultural law that bound the women of the 1800’s, but the women of the twenty first century flaunt their individuality and wear it well. I believe the era we live in now is more productive, and certainly more beneficial for the everyday woman. The second topic I am going to discuss is that of the rights and perhaps the individuality of a woman in Dickens’s time, compared to now. In the early nineteenth century, women had minimal rights. They could not do most of what any man could do socially, and politically.
Under English common law, when a man and women were married, the husband gained control of all that his wife owned, and personally managed all of her property however he pleased. In turn, the man was obliged to support his wife. Women were not given the right to speak out under any circumstance or any kind of authority over any man. Women were to be kept by their husbands, without any rights of their own, and that was the law. They were as caged birds, with no freedom. This did not sit well with many women. Finally, they began to speak out.
English women of both upper and lower class began to speak out, including Barbara Leigh Smith, who authored her nation-wide publication, A Brief Summary, in Plain Language, of the Most Important Laws concerning Women, in 1854. (Wojtczak) Women of the day thought it was time to show society that they did have voices, and that they could use them. It took years, but eventually, their cries were heard, and women were given the right to vote. They were also given a small amount of equality rights which allowed them to have the same standing as men in very few areas.
Also, laws such as The Married Woman’s Property Act, and the Matrimonial Causes Act were passed in the favor of women. (Victorian Women) Today, women have more rights than they could have imagined back in Dickens’s time. In the present day, women have every right that a man has. Women have taken positions of authority all over the world, and they have helped society rise to a completely new level over the years. From social stance to political standpoints, women have helped shape our present, and future, as we know it. Another subject I wanted to briefly address was that of sexual crimes against women in the 1800’s.
Women were the prey of men, and with no laws protecting them and no social or political views suggesting it was wrong, many women were taken advantage of. There are numerous examples of this is Dickens’s literature, especially the situation with Hugh and Dolly Varden in Barnaby Rudge. (pg. 176) Today, women have gained numerous rights. Thankfully, many rights to protect women and girls against the lusts and evil-doings of perverse men have been passed since Dickens’s day. In my point of view, women should have the rights that a man does, all in the name of freedom and equality.
In no way am I saying women should take the place of man in every aspect, I am simply stating that women can work and lead just as well as any man. I believe that women should still be submissive to their husbands, as it says in the Bible. I also believe that women need to be treated with respect by their husbands, as the Apostle Paul states in Ephesians 5:33. I think no matter what rights individuals are given, respect must be mutual in order to produce good, healthy results. In conclusion, I am convinced that the Victorian era was filled with errors from a feministic standpoint.
I, for one, am not a feminist, but I agree. I believe it is wrong for women to be objectified and treated as play-things. I cannot blame Dickens for his view on the matter, for it was merely the society in which he was raised. His attitudes towards women are indeed grotesque and savage, but as were the attitudes of every man in his social and political surroundings. I can say that the objectification of women in Dickens’s day disgusts me, but I feel bad for those living in that era, for they had to live, love, and grow in such an environment.
Bibliography E. D. H. Johnson, Holmes Professor of Belles Lettres, Princeton University http://www. victorianweb. org/authors/dickens/edh/2. html George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University http://www. victorianweb. org/history/work/burnett3. html Helena Wojtczak http://www. victorianweb. org/gender/wojtczak/servants. html Helena Wojtczak http://www. victorianweb. org/gender/wojtczak/bodichon. html Victorian Women — Social and Political Contexts http://www. victorianweb. org/gender/political. html Barnaby Rudge – page 176