Charles Dickens' - Hard Times, The Role of Women in Victorian England example

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Charles Dickens’ Hard Times: The Role of Women in Victorian England

The ideal Victorian woman was seen as a pure, domestic, and nurturing human being mainly interested in marriage and meeting her husband’s needs (Gray, 2016). At the same time, the Victorian Age in England was characterized by the fast-moving economic and social development resulting in a confrontation of the old and new values (Gray, 2016). In Hard Times, Dickens portrays a range of female characters who demonstrate different kinds of adjustment to conflicting Victorian values and are, therefore, either fit or unfit for the role of the ideal woman.

Mrs. Gradgrind represents absurd femininity. She demonstrates total submissiveness to her husband to the extent of complete inability to act without his instruction. She is characterized by narrow-mindedness and “surpassing feebleness” (Dickens, 2013), the features showing the Victorian understanding of a woman as a creature whose intellectual abilities are much lower than those of men (Gray, 2016). Mrs. Gradgrind is also portrayed as a failing mother due to her sanity sacrificed to her husband’s delusional philosophy. In this way, she acts as her husband’s counterpart in exercising the psychological abuse of their children by totally denying their right to feel any emotions, imagine, wonder, and think on their own. Due to Mrs. Gradgrind’s debility and inability to provide adequate care for her children, she cannot be regarded as an ideal Victorian woman.

The rebelliousness against the traditional Victorian view of womanhood is represented by Mrs. Blackpool and Mrs. Sparsit. While the first is portrayed as a demonic antipode of the household angel, the second is depicted as a fake one (Wooten, 2008). For example, Mrs. Blackpool assumes the masculine role of “a disabled, drunken creature” (Dickens, 2013). She subverts her duties of a wife, acting as the direct opposite of the ideal image of the 19th century woman and displaying the signs of provocative independence primarily associated with men’s behavior (Makati, 2008). In comparison with her, Mrs. Sparsit pretends to be an angel to improve her status in Bounderby’s house, while having actual masculine ambitions (Wooten, 2008). Both women do not represent the ideal Victorian femininity because of their ambitions and manipulation of men.

As for Louisa, she is an example of a woman torn between the demands of her upbringing and her natural inclinations. While having an inquiring mind and a sympathetic heart, she is a victim of her father’s practical education and her brother’s emotional manipulation resulting in her forced marriage with Bounderby. The gross illustration of the abuse of sexual nature is a scene with Bounderby going up to the children’s room and kissing Louisa on the cheek (Dickens, 2013). As a result of her psychologically abusive education, Louisa is unable to be driven by love in her marriage and is ill-equipped to adequately respond to Mr. Harthouse’ intrusive interest (Gray, 2016). Eventually, she revolts against her marital ties and education and pays the price for breaking the code by being single and childless …

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