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In what ways are the authors successful in challenging Victorian perceptions of women in 'The Tenant of Wildfell Hall' and 'The Woman in White'?

:-·

I

1

Abstract

~

Th e question I hav e c hosen to in vest igate, ' Tn w hat ways ar e the auth o rs successful in challeng in g

Victorian pe rceptions of wo men

stud y in Wi lkie Collins ' and An n e Bronte's prese ntation of f e males in soc iety. Thoug h neither author

necessa rily inte nded the ir wr iting to be spec ifically feminist , both book s a re rega rded as p io neering - a nd , to a deg ree, pre-emptive - works of Victorian femini st fi ction . 1 co n sulted a number o f seco ndary so urces, in c ludin g a rev iew of The Woman in White wr itten just te n years after it was publi s he d and

direct refe re nces to A nne Bronte ' s

with in the m so le ly to m odern perspectives . Bronte translates her stout moral co nsc ious ness, for part of

th e t ex.'1, into a de fiant ly independ e nt

a nd immovable ideals. Howe ver, the novel 's stumbling stru cture, and th e he roin e ' s return to th e rol e

of a w ife at th e end of th e text destabili ses Bro nte's profo und m essa ge in co ntra st

in 'The Tenant of Wildfell Hall' and 'The Woma n in White'? ' is a

diary, in order not to limit res ponses to the texts and the

f e mal e nar rator, who ec hoes th e

issues

a uth or's re lig io us consciousness

to Co llin s ', des pite

hi s less eage r attempts to estab lish a fe male as

sy mbo ls of th e hero ine: th e c la ss ic,

fri e ndless and harassed;

masculine. Although he seems not quite w illing to attribute these ti ne qualities to an entirely fem inine

c reature, he is ab le, in the co ntrast of Maria n to hi s ge ntle hero, and by re-definin g th e in re lationships, to c reate an influe ntial text, w itho ut Bronte ' s so met im es opp ress ive ly

a mora l adv isor . In stead , Co llin s prov ides three

modest he iress, na"Jvc and weak; the pitied illeg itim ate da ug hter,

Marian , bold, courageous, intelligent, and - alas- unden iab ly

role of wo me n dida c tic to ne.

and finall y

(

V./

/

Word Count: 268

\1

l

intelligent, and - alas- unden iab ly role of wo me n dida c tic to

Contents

T itle Page Abstract Contents Introd uction Narrat ive stru cture Anim al imagery Setting and property Conc lusion Bib li ography

Word co unt: 3998

2

3

4

5

8

II

13

14

In what ways m·e the authors successful in challenging Victorian perceptions of women in 'The Tenant of W il dfell Hall' and 'The Woman in White ''!

Wi lki e Co li iDs and Anne Bronte we re both w ri t in g their nove ls iD th e mid - nin e tee nth century , w he n

the ir

co nte mporaries, suc h as Dickens, were c reatin g self-sac rifici n g females like M iss Manette in A

Tale

of

Two C it ies, w ho were fami li ar im ages of female v irtue and th us were wa rml y rece ived by

readers. Thi s was a time when a married woman

ceased to be a person unde r the law of covett ure, w hi c h stated tha t t he w ife's inte rests we re

represented by her husband. 1

Women were rega rd ed

esca pe near imposs ibl e. Pr io r to the 18 57 M atrimonia l Cau ses Ac t, o nl y fo ur wom e n had sec ured a

di vorce from the ir hus ba nds in an Eng Iish co utt, but even after be ing freed

bear th e burde n of social prejudice. A v irtuo us woman was thought pure, o bedient and dutifu l, so a

s pinster was, if not despi sed , t ho ug ht ridi c ul o us. Although fema le authors were present at the tim e,

rarely did they clar e to indul ge in matters of m o ralit y o r c hall eng in g ut~u st soc ial syste m s, th o ugh m e n

we re free ly abl e to do so , again

as little more tha n possess ions o f thei r hu sba nd s, w hic h made the prospect o f

, a woman wo uld ha ve t o

c itin g D ickens w ho o n e n sa tiri ses and s la nd ers soc ial inequa lity of

. \\

c

lasses in Victorian En g land.

T

he Bro nte sisters a re regarded

as sy m b o is of fema le success in thi s mi sogyn

ist ic syst em si mpl y

through the ir writing books. For many years their works were published unde r pseudonyms, but

Acto n Be ll 's gender nevetth c less " rou sed the curi osity of a ll and the co nd om nation ofthose w ho judged the subject unfit for a woman" 2 Unde terred , A nne responds stoutly in her Preface to The

T e nan t ofW il dfe ll H a ll ( 1848):

I am satisfied that if a book is a good one, it is so whatever the sex of the author

1 am at a

loss to co nceive

proper and becoming for a man. 3

w hy a woman s ho ul d be ce nsured for w ri t in g anyth in g thal wo ul d be

This ' proper and becoming' topic is that of a young woman, Helen, escaping ber cruel, alcohol ic

hu sba nd w ith h e r son- a n act ion that wou ld not be suppotied by Eng li s h law at t he t im e. It is not

wo m en that mot ivates he r w riting , however, as a sense of respons ib ility to

mu c h the co nstraint of

co nvey human fo lly , w itnessed in the houses w here she was e mpl oyed as governess. S he

neverthe less, we ll aware how ill received it wo uld be from the pen of a wo m an :

was,

so

1 An ne Humphreys Breaking Ap!!rt: th e Early Vict or ian divorce novel in Victorian Woman Writers and the

Wo m an Questioned. Nicola Diane Thompson

(Cambridg e University Press, 1999) p. 46

of W ild fe ll Hall (Penguin s

2

3

Winifred Ger in, ' Introd uct ion' to The Tenant

An ne Bronte, 'Preface to t

Books Ltd ., 1979, re iss ued 1984) p . 7 Hall (Peng ui ns Books Ltd ., 1979,

h e Second Ed it i on' of The Tenant of Wildfe ll

reissued 1984, first published 1848) p.31

wh e n L ree l it my duty to s peak an unpalatabl e truth, w ith the he lp o f Go d , I will s peak it, though it be to the prejudice of my name. 4

By pres umin g th e ri ght to tea c h mo rality to m e n , thro ugh the voice of he r hero ine , Bron te pro motes

fe males from the role of humble service to one of self-righteousness and w isdom .

Co llin s,

lite rature a re n or ma lly accredited to th e 'New W o ma n ' co ncept, w hic h recog nis abl y arose afte r the publi cat ion o f Th e Wom a n in W hite ( 18 59 -18 6 0), aro und th e 18 90 s . Nevetth e less , Do ro thy L. Saye rs,

in her introduc ti o n

nin etee nth -century nove li sts" 5 . U nlike Bronte' s h ero ine, the yo un g wo ma n in this text (La ura ) d ocs

no t sav e herself from a n unf01tun ate marriage t o S i.r Perc ival, bu t is resc ued by he r draw in g mast er,

to T he Moo n stone sta tes that " h e is t he most ge nuin ely femini st

li ke Bro nte , ha d no inte nti on of

be in g a fe mini st w rite r,

ind ee d a ny fe minis t m oveme nts in

of a ll the

'

H

a rtri ght, a nd sist e r, Ma ri an, s purre d by the w arnings of Ann e Cath eric k w ho escap es tJ1c p sychiatric

in

stitu te in w hi c h

s h e had been unjus tly placed by Laura ' s hus band.

The co nt rast of t hese three

hero ines' ro les transfo rmatio n

secu rity by th e industrial revo lutio n in the 18 111 Century, England was on the brink of socia l revoluti on,

w hi c h d e fin es m o d e rn Eng li s h ide a ls of demo c racy a nd e qu a li ty. In Iig ht of thi s , T w i II in ves ti gate t he effect these n ove ls m ay have ha d o n th e ir Vic to ri a n reade rs' pe rce pti o n o r wome n, throu g h th e ir

libe ratio n of the fem a le as a na rrator, the prese ntat ion of gende r roles throu g h a nim a l m otifs, and the way in w hi c h th e settin g is used t o c re ate images of impriso nme nt a nd of asy lum .

w ithin the of wo m e n

plo t a nd t he ir re latio nship w ith mal e c hara c ters hig hlig hts the immin e nt in literature and in soc iety. Havin g bee n la unc h ed towa rds eco no mi c

/

Bo th nove ls a re wr itte n as a co ll ecti o n or fir s t-pe rso n acco unts , a llow in g bo th ma le

and fe ma le

c

ha racte rs

t o he lp n a rrate the text. Collins

g rants Marian Halcombe a nd so me othe r

min o r fe male

c

ha rac te rs a

ro le in na rrating The Wo man

in White, thou gh it can be argue d th at Ma ria n is not e ntire ly

e

mpowe red by it. While challe ng ing V ic toria n d ecorum by

a vesdro p o n th e men, s he is s tr uc k down w ith a feve r (th e

c limb ing ac ross a roof a t nig ht to

e

inev itable hindrance to th e ty pi ca l hero in e ,

pa1iic ul ar ly t hose of .Jane Austen a nd Emil y a nd C harlotte Bronte) " that causes her to lose co ntro l

over her text" 6 a nd thus s he " proves a fa

ilure as a wom a n wr ite r" 7 .

Eve n w ith t he hea rt a nd mind o f a

m

an , her v uln er able fe rn in ine a na to my s uccu mbs

to the weath e r, a nd thu s Co llin s imp Iics th at

eve n

th

e most stub bo rnly masc ulin e o f fe m a les canno t ove rcom e h e r greatest hind rance: he r sex. In

T he

Tena nt o f W ildfe ll H all, th e ma le as Eli za be th La ng la nd p o ints OLlt,

n arration is

at thi s t im e " wom e n wr iters h ad no t yet c la im e d fo r th e m se lves th e

d iv ided by a la rge ext ract of Hele n ' s jo uma l, a ltho ug h,

~A nne B r o n te, ' Pr e f a ce to t

h e Seco nd Editi o n ' of Th e

5

Doro thy L.

Saye r s ' In t r o du ct i o n ' to M oo n sto n e p . vi i

T e n a n t o f W ild fe ll H a ll (J . M . De n t, 1947)

op. c i t. p. 30

6

Tama r Hell er De ad Sec r ets: W ilki e Co llin s an d th e f ema l e got h ic (Ya l e Uni vers it y Pr ess, 1992) p . 135

7 ibid. p. 135

ll

\) \ aut ho ri ty of s pe aking third pe rson from the

\)

\

\) \ aut ho ri ty of s pe aking third pe rson from the p

aut ho ri ty of s pe aking

third pe rson from the p er spective of a woma n, avoiding first- band accou nts. In contrast to Co llins '

nove l, it is the m a n in T he Te n a nt ofW ildfell Hall who is stru ck down , s pec ifi cally, by

hea lth and salvation.

to the w him s o f ot her he roin es of t he pe ri od , but rath e r attributed solely to male protagonists.

and the wo man who fights for hi s

directl y through a wo man a s narrator" 8 , th at

is , th a t a uth o rs us uall y wrote in th e

hi s own vices,

A nne Bronte w ill not a llow He len to succumb makes her maintain th e rationality a ll too often

A

lth o u g h

A:n11e C ath e r ick is not provid e d w ith he r own narrati ve, her vo ice pl ays a n important ro le as

a

proph eti c sy mbol in T he Woman in W hite. Her powe r is der ived from

di

ssenting C hristianity w hic h

was popular in the nineteen th-century

he r " voice of the rh et oric of fe minist movemen ts" 9 . Her

re

li g io us refe rences us ua lly

ha ve connotations to th e co ntrast of good a nd ev iI; of a f e male 's puri ty to

a

man 's selfi shness, for e x a mpl e

in he r lette r to La ura regard ing he r en gag eme nt to

Si r Pe rciva l,

describing how in her dream "t here, behind him , stood a !le nd la ug hin g

stood an a nge l weep ing. " 10 She a lso u ses s pec ifi c Bib lica l refe re nces to va li date he r a nx ieti es, c itin g " (Ge nes is x l. 8. x li . 25; Daniel iv . 18-25)" 11 -sce nes of dream interpretation, suc h as Jose ph and the Pharao h - in an atte m pt to prove that her d reams have prop hetic re leva nce a nd a re n ot m e re ly fant asy.

A lth o ug h Co ll in s later revea ls that An ne 's

tha n for es ig ht, he r

the most vu lnera bl e o f fe males.

and t he re, be hind [Laura],

avers io ns are born of pr io r expe ri e nce of S ir v ita l to hi s eve ntua l dow nfa ll , thus ascr ibing

Pe rcival rath er power even to

e ni g mati c wa rnin gs are

Bronte g ives He le n a did actic voice,

w ith a re iig io us tone s imil ar to Anne Cath e rick , th e corruptibi lity of ma nkind , re n ected in th e

pres um

ing a m oral s uperi ority despite her gend e r . S he preac hes,

I

meta phor of

th e path

one tak es throu g h life. So

vi tal

is it

to t h e t ex t , it

is inc lud e d both in d1e Preface :

Is it

better to

re vea l th e s nares

t o t he yo un g

and t ho u g htless trave ller, or to

cover them with branches and

and pitfa lls of life flowers? 12

 

And a lso later in the text , stated by He len :

I see th e w hole race of mankind (w ith a few rare except io ns) stum b lin g a nd blund e ring a lo ng t he path of life. 13

Bronte, embittered by " unpleasant and undreamt gove rness at Tho rp G ree n Ha ll , uses Hel e n as a n

of experiences of human nature" 1 ' 1 in he r post as

o utl et for he r own disg ust at t he

fi· ivo lous be havio ur

8 El i zabeth Lang l and Ann e Bronte : t h e ot h er one (B arn es and N obl e books, 1989) 9 Ta m ar Hell er op . cit . p . 124

10 Wi lkie Co llin s Th e Woma n in Whi t e (Pengu i n Books

Jl ibid. p. 65 1 z Anne Br onte 'Preface to the Second ed ition' ofThe Tenant of Wi ldfell Hall op . cit . p. 30 13 An ne Bronte Th eTena nt of W ildfell Hall (Penguin Books Ltd . 1979, reissued 1984, fi r st publis hed 1848) p. 54 ,

55

Ltd ., 1994, first pub l ished 1868 ) p.

66

6

Books Ltd . 1979, reissued 1984, fi r st publis hed 1848) p. 54 , 55

of gentry, adopting- through the authoritative stance of a mothe r rai sin g a c hild - a so mbre to ne of jud geme nt on m e n. Moreover , Bronte us es thi s ~ ne to express what s he p erceives as th e un necessary distinctions between the treatment of sexes:

.to teach her how to sin is at once to make her a sinner, and the greater her knowledge, the

w ider he r libe tty, th e dee pe r w ill be her depravity,- whereas, in the nob le r sex, there

is a

natural

tendency to goodn ess

which, the more it is exercised by trial s and dan ge rs,

is

onl y

fUither

deve loped. 15

Her first-person narration a llows he r,

thi s case, that wh ile sin mak es man v irtuous, it makes woman a s inner, ironicall y ca lling men the

' nobler sex' to emphasise her cyni cism .

co ntrovers iall y, t o c ritici se hy pocritica l beliefs of th e tim e, in

·"

In The Woman in Wh ite, howeve r, M a rian, w hose vety nature c hallenges pe rce pti o ns of

wo me n at the

time, co ntradicts he rse lf by co ndemnin g the gender to w hi c h sh e

doe s s uc h ju s ti ce

in her abi lity to

narrate. She upholds and openly expresses the belief that women

are ''foo ls" 11 ' and

yet she procures

the most res pect from c harac te rs and readers a l ike, co mpared to Laura. Altho ug h she is better lo ve d by th e hero, Collins does not a ll ow Laura to contribute narration, makin g he r th e di stant s ubj ect of

pi ty rather than e mpathy . This resembles man both phys ically

o f he r nature. Marian is " th e newe r kind of heroin e

th e Victorian reade rs

suggests the on ly wo man w ho deserves o ur respect is one who in her " swruthy" 17 features , and also in th e stubborn, fearles s clements

o pe nl y intelligent and unafra id " 18 , but even so,

be li eve

suc h wom e n as s he are able sta nd a lone in thi s world, and a m e rc iful Provid e nce provi des that me n should fa ll in lo ve c hie fly with th e less g ifted and se lf-re li anl. 19

Th at is, that Lau ra, being weak a nd de pe nde nt, a ppea ls more to the Victorian se ns ibiliti es of Hattrig ht ,

w ho d oes not de s ir e an e qual as a wife but so m eo n e w ho ca n re l y on him a nd be a dotin g, s u bordinate

Maria n is

perhaps the ir inability to pet and pity Marian that re leases her from th e ro le of a w ife: Co llins libe rates

Marian witb a pen (which can be perceived me ta ph o ri cal pat riarc hy ove r the text in he r

essential irony of Marian's role- a parad igm of a powerful fem ale, who ridicu les her sex and

.

unlovable, yet cons idered " infinite ly more adm irab le'.2o even by Victor ian c riti cs , a nd it is

as a " metaphorical penis" 21 , the reby prov iding her with a secti o ns), rat her th a n su bdue her w ith a hus ba nd . Th e

.1

14

15

16

17

Anne Bronte Diary paper, 30 July 1841

Ann e

Wi lkie Collins op. cit. p.26

Bronte The Tenant of Wil dfell Hall op. cit. p. 57

ibid. p. 24

/

18 Sue Lon off Wilkie Co llin s and hi s Victorian readers: a st ud y in th e rhetoric of authors hip (AMS Press, I nc. 1982)p . 138

19

w

21

J L Stewar t Ro se- Belford's Ca n ad i an Monthly and

National Review

(No v 1878 ) p. 587

Tamar Hell er op. cit. p . 135

Sandra Gil bert and Susa n Gulbar

The Madwoman

in the Attic: The

Woman Writ er and the 19th Century

Literary imagination (N ew Haven Press, Yale University Press, 1979)

intimidates m en- hi g hli g hts the injust ice by making it a lm ost comedic. Collins mocks me n fo r being

h orr ifi e d by the ir eq ua ls, a nd perpetu atin g pathetic w ives in order to fee l s u perior.

('

'-

L

t.l.:

w ives in order to fee l s u perior. (' '- L t.l.: h J

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T his weak n ess in male

characters is

revea led at th e

conc lus ion of t he novel.

U ntil this

point, Hattright

overs hadows Marian's

role throu gh

hi s attempts to

person a lly drive th e investigation,

in orde r

to

assett hi s masc ulinity t lu·o ug h redeem in g La ura 's v irtu e and atta inin g her love. T hi s ac hi eved,

he

su bmits, admitting " The pen fa lters

stoty" 23 , si gnifYing that a wo man is capable of fulfilling hi s ro le. Conversely , thi s is w he re Bronte ' s heroin e falters, in allowing the narrative to be recaptured a nd co nc luded by Gi lbert, w ho e nds on a bathetic note: s ig ni ng off a letter to a friend , thereby making He len 's na rrative input a mere detai l of

h is mat rim o n ia l conqu est. Anne Humph reys,

atte mp t to address the in eq u a lity of marriage in a novel

in [hi s] hand" 22 , and requestin g that Marian wou ld " e nd o ur

citing T he Tenant ofWi ldfc lll-lall, a rgu es that the

can destabi lize the narrative and open fissu res through wh ich new types of narrative structures

and

closures are tried, not a lways successfully. 24

She refers specifically lo Helen's " long and repetitive" 25 contributi o n to the narrative, w hic h she

c laim s hinders t he c lim ax of the novel. By indulgin g the female to reco un t he r suffe ring so intim a tely through a diary entry, the a uth o r has lost the objectivity to express herse lf coherentl y; it can be

pe rce ived

wife.

Consequently, altho ug h Bronte 's hero in e may appear a sober m o ra list whe n described from Lhe

male narrator's perspective, when g iven the narration herself she merely encumbers the story, presenting wome n to be as temperamental as a V ictorian reader may expect.

as the fick leness of wo m e n, in a society that regarded loya lty to be the g reatest vittue of a

l

'

,

T he autho rs use an imal imagery to denote the prescribed gender ro les in soc iety. Dogs are a rec urre nt im age used in The Woman in W hite, for examp le Ma1:ian ' s desc r ipt io n of the s hot spa nie l, in w hi c h

Co ll in s makes use of th e symbo li sm " the poo r

of blood on the g lossy while s ide" 26 to give an a llegor ica l m eaning. White is associated throug hout t he

nove l w ith

ma n: of

La ura Fairlie, and so w he n stained w ith b lood, pottrays the s uffer ing of these two characters. Furthermore, it is a fam ilia r metaphor of a v irgi na l bride ' s irreversibly lost ch astity . Maria n' s contemp lative comment " the misery of a weak, helpless, dumb c reature is sure ly one of the saddest o f

(hence the title, 'The Woma n in W hite ' ), a nd also as an im age of t he

littl e dog ' s

eyes we re g laz in g fast, and there we re spots

An ne Cathe rick, as she

refu ses to wear anyt hing but w hite upon he r g uard ia n's req uest

pure, v irg inal v ic tims of

22 Wil kie Col lins op. cit. p. 569

23

24

25

ibid. p. 569

Anne Humphreys op. cit. p . 46

i bid. p. 46

' 6 Wilkie Col lins op. cit. p. 18 2

/

a ll the mo urnful s ig hts th e simply mo urn the spanie l,

Although Collins presents these two women as lowly subjects of pity, he continues to empower Maria n , illustrating a pro gress io n in the ideal of a he roin e: s he co nte mplates th e v ict im , rather th a n becoming the victim.

wo rld ca n s how" 27 clarifies the breadth of the image; Marian doesn't she mourns a ny c reature that cannot d e fe nd itse lf - she mourns for wo me n.

.

I

.,;

Bro nte, too, uses dogs as a symbol of female status . She illustrates Helen 's re lations hip w ith Mr.

I lun tin gto n thro ugh a short interaction w ith his pet:

" hi s favourite c

He stru ck it off with a sma1t blow; the poo r dog sq ueaked , a nd ran cowe rin g back to me

ca ll e d again , mo re s harply , bu t Dash onl y c lun g c loser to m e snatc he d up a heavy book and burled it at hi s h ead. " 28

too k t he lib e rty of jumping upon him a nd beginning t o lick hi s fa ce.

I le

E nra ged at this, his mas te r

Bronte does not use such profound symbolism as Co llins, as she si mply utilises the dog as a metaph or

f or w ives b e in g a possess io n o f their hu s band s. However , s h e a l so portra ys th e o th e r s id e o f Lh is companionship: the dependence the m an has upon the animal, and his j ea lous need to be loved, thoug h he cannot o ffer mutual affection. Througho ut the text, Bronte makes seve ral references to Shakes peare, w hi c h s ugges ts th e meta ph or of the dog may too be a reference to a sce ne in A

M ids umm er N ight 's D ream , in w hic h

ll e le na,

des perate for Dem e trius's love, cr ies out:

" I am yo ur spanie l; a nd , Dem etr ius,

The more you beat me, I w ill fawn on yo u.

Use me but as you spaniel, spurn me, strike me,

Neglect me, lose me

"

29

The clog is not just a playthin g for man, but th e dotin g v ic tim of its owner's v io le nce, beggi ng to be

inj ured for th e sake of its m aster 's j oy; a n image made more a ppa rent w he n th e narrator is th e s u bject

of

ex per ie nce it, as s he progresses from a c lassic hero ine t o a mo re indepe nde nt woman.

the metaphor. Bronte, li ke Co llins, a llows He le n t o

cont e mpl ate t his relationship rat he r than s im p ly

1

1

Bronte hi g hli g hts H un t ingdon ' s vicio us na ture through re peated refe re nce to him as a hunter,

pa

t hough th is image is essenti a lly one of barbaris m, Hel en, v ictim to her own n aivety , is

Th e im ages o f s lau ghte r e mp athise with Hele n ' s pride, whic h has been brui sed to the a museme nt o r

rticu larly w hile co urting Helen. W h en he approach es her ''stain ed w ith the bl ood of his prey" 30 ,

not repu lsed .

27 Wilkie Co llin s op . ci t . p. 182

28 Anne Bront e The Ten an t of W il dfell Hall op . cit. p. 225

29 Wi lli am Shakespeare, A Midsummer

reprinte d Thomas Learning, 2000, fi rst publi shed 1600) Act II, Sc. I, lin es 203-206, p.40. 30 Anne Br onte The Tenan t of W ildfe ll Hall op. cit. p. 177

Night's Dreamed . Haro ld F.

Brook s (Methuen & Co. Ltd ., 1979,

/

/

Hun t ing don ; t h ese blood ego. it is, neve1t he less, a

preyed upon by more experienced gentlemen. T hough th ese ro les may not have been particularly

co ntrovers ia l at the time, Bro nte' s re lationships.

stai n s are n ot a p ote nt image of tattered v i1tue , but o f a pro u d g irl 's tattered

provoking m essage of

the bruta lity of courtship, w hen

ignoran t g irl s are

empathy with the vict im hi ghli g hts t he potent ia l c ru e lty of

Co llins, on to a nimals.

compl ex cha racte r than the gene ric V ictorian hu sband. T he Count's ab ility to command an ima ls

thro ug h affec tio n, s uc h as his ca naries - " pretty little

fea rl essly o n hi s hand " 31 -

wife has been endem·ed into s ubm iss ion,

the othe r ha nd , assoc iates o ne

of his more deviou s c haracte rs w ith an a dorin g re la ti o ns hip

T he mt of this is not purely in th e co nt rast, but in revea ling Fosco's c ha racter as a more

c leve rl y train ed c reatures [which] perch w ith women. Particularly, his " o nce wayward" 32

illustrates hi s relatio nship

as Mari an acknowledges :

he r co ld b lue eyes

inquiry w hic h we are all familiar w ith in the eyes of a fa ithful dog. 33

are gene ra lly tum e d on he r hus band , with the look of mute submiss ive

H.e r e, Co lliJlS hi g hli g hts t he co mmon c h a ra cte ri st ic in Fo sco more of a compani on to him than a dog.

with th e rest o

f h is ge nd e r ; hi s w ife is n o

\.1

Even Marian, the m ost empowering symbol of her sex, is not im mu ne to him . She admits

lf he had m a rri ed a ti g ress, instead of a woma n, he wo ul d have tam ed the ti g ress. Ir he had

marr ied me

l s ho uld ha ve he ld m y tongue w he n he loo ke d a t m e , as [ hi s w ife] ho lds hers 3 4

Co llin s has indul ged a femal e c haracter to co mpare herse lf to a tig ress, a nd rise above the metaphor of th e pet dog, ye t even in thi s e leva ted slate, man rules over her. T he a uthor ft uther co nfou nds the .,_/ metaphor when Fosco takes up Marian ' s diary and effe minately exp resses an attachment lo her, c lai ming " U nder ha ppier c irc umstan ces how worthy l s ho ul d have bee n o f M iss Ha lco mbe" 35 . It

appears afte r all

foreigner, is not as conservative as the EngIish gentlemen, and contrasts their predatory behaviour - as Ma rian exp resses it:

that Marian can be loved, th o ug h not by a ny ordinary ge ntle m a n. Fosco, a fr ivo lo us

He wo uld bla nd ly k iss his white mi ce and twitter to his cana1y- birds a mi d a n assemb ly of Eng lish fox-hunte rs, a nd would o nl y pity t he m as barbarians. 36

31 W ilkie Collin s op . cit. p. 195

32 ibid. p.192

33

ibid . p. 191

34 ibid. p. 192

35 ibid. p. 303

36 ibid. p. 195

/

This image summarises the re ason he can adore Marian, beca use he is not oft he En g li s h Victorian

society; he, like Mar ian , is a liv ing sy mbo l of libe ra lity and revo lution , and is s upe ri or e no ug h eyes to pity the traditionalists.

in her

T he setting, often claustrop hob ic, plays a v ital role i11 both tex ts. It acts

women' s state of mind and being, and more lite rall y , in Th e Wo m a n in

Catherick' s incarceration and Laura's entrapment in marriage.

to be " s ituated on a dead fl at, a nd seems to be shut i11 - a lmost suffocate d

both as a m ethod of keeping Laura in and the Cathericks out- a symbol of the boundaries constructed

both as a m e taphor for

the

W hite , to rep rese nt Anne

Blackwater, for example, is desc ribed

by h·ees" 37 , w hic h act

a

nd co ntrolled by patriarchs, whic h non et he less

are broken

t hrough by Anne , li ke t he wa lls of her

asy lu m ( perhaps more accurate ly d escribed as a

prison). In

ways, she is a mo re potent sy mbo l o f

fe m a le revo luti on than Ma rian - Sir Percival is more afraid of Am1e, believ ing her to know his secret. Co llins later reveals that, great symbol as she may be, s he " real ly did not know" 38 the secret she

s pe nd s so long attempting to co nvey ; s he is s il enced. S ile nce in itse lf pla ys a central ro le in c reat in g a 11 .r ~ se nse of c laustrophobia and he lpl essness: in the tex t both Marian- by her illness, a nd Laura- by he r

1 ignorance, are condemned to be use less

at fightin g their part against S ir Percival' s ma le domi ni on.

Bronte uses Gilbert's description of the garden to introduce Helen's wasted yo uth and degradation

even be fore the characteri

~~

/

a ga rden - o nce, stoc ke d with s uc h ha rd y plants a nd now e rs as co uld be s t brook the so il a nd

c limate, a nd

su c h t rees and s hrubs as co uld best e ndure the ga rde n er ' s torturing shears, and

most readily

ass ume the s hapes he c hose to give them ,- now hav ing

been left so many years,

untilled a nd

untrimmed , a bandoned to the weeds and the grass, to the frost and the w ind , the

ra

in a nd the

drou g hr 9

This is an unmi s takeabl e im age of Hele n 's once strong c haract e r, res ilient to agony , a p li ab le vict im

to v iole nce, eve ntually left so litary and vulnerable - unm

introdu ction o nl y hints at her expe ri ences. For fear of her nam e "s preadin g

someone who w ill carry it

till it reac h th e e ars of

ista keable, that is, in

retros pec t, but as a n

to [h er hu sband] " 40 , Hele n must seclude h e rse lt: a nd m o reover, is fo rced to

be inde bted to her brother in order to escape. T he constraints of de bt and sec lusion, h owever, arc

large ly se lf- im posed by pride, not from be ing p ossessed by

not harbour any shame in leav ing behind a life of wealth to become self-sufficient and repay her

another, like Co llins ;,female s. S he does

37 W ilki e Collin s op . cit. p . 174

38 ibid . p. 487

39

Anne Bronte The Ten an t of Wi ldfell Hall op. cit. p. 46

40

ibid . p. 400

debts, but rather is proud of " my labour, my earnings, my frugal fare" 41 . The repetitions of the

possessive ' my' emphasises

her

consciousness of her sole ownership and he r independe nce. Through

thi s, the auth or d eco nstructs

the

Victorian gender ro le of women , s howing them to be ca pa bl e of being

an individual parent and provider, and not s imply an obedient accessory to her husband.

v /

Even c laustrophobi c images of being surrounded by darkness, such as her " plain black silk dress" 42

and " black ve il" 43 , both c on s ti tuent to h er dis g ui se a s a widow,

status, and a lso the " bleak and barren fi e lds" 44 surrounding her house, do not succeed in imprisoning her, but " ec ho back [her] own sense of hope and freedom" 45 . She is not wa ll ed in by t hese d efenc es,

but rathe r Hun t in gdon -a sy mbol of male de sc ribes how s he " mu s t sp arkle in cost ly

us ing a modal ve rb to co nvey it as an act o r obed ience, to w hi c h Helen wi llin g ly co mplies to

he r husba nd , a nd whic h, Bronte m a kes c lea r, s he is pl eased no longe r to oblige when an ind e pend e nt wo man . Marian , in T he Woman in W hite, expresses a s imilar distaste, stating in a bitter tone, d enoted by a t rico lo n of plos ives, that s he is " condemned to patie nce, propriety, and petticoat s fo r life"' 17 , using

c o nstrictive a nd s up e rflu ous fema le dress of the era to sy mb o li se s imilarly

but a lso symbo li c of he r humbl ed

opp ressio n -

is wa ll ed out. E arlier in Helen 's diary , s he

jew e ls and d ec k [her] se l f o ut I ike a pa int ed buller fl y' "' 6 ,

amuse

red un dant id eals of being

femal e

in Victorian Eng land.

Unlik e

Bronte's h e r o ine , Hmtri~ht , Laura , and Ma ri an p e r ce i ve th~r l owe r e d s taht s as a s ham ef ul

hinde rance to Laura's happiness. Furthe rmore, Laura, ca nnot co ntribute to her own salvation as He len does,

stereoty pica l heroine. She is, rather, humoured by her carers, and led to believe that her paintings are so ld to make co ntribution to costs , w hereas they are kept by Hattri g ht, iro ni ca ll y as " tTe a s ures beyo nd price''' 1 g . This is the s ummit ofHattrig ht' s success as the mal e; his wealthy he iress now poor and

dependent. Inn ocently mimi ck ing S ir

stir outs ide the door" 49 , en fo rc ing the supposed frag iIity of women, and the necessity of man to act as protector, pro vider, a nd - impo rtantl y - po ssessor, and ye t, it is all done out of Ha 1tright' s ad mira bly

whose nerves have been damaged by marriage, and so Co llins revea ls t he weakness of the

1'\

Perc ival , he con c ludes tha t " ne ithe r Marian nor Laura sho uld

reminine love and respect for these women .

i\1

41

4 7.

43

44

45

Anne Bronte The Tenant of Wild fell Hall op. cit. p. 398 ibid. p. 395

395

ibid. p. 397

397

ibid . p.

ibid . p.

46 ibid. p. 230

47 Wi lkie Collin s op . cit. p. 174

48 ibid . p. 433

49 ibid . p. 389

/

Co ll in s' introductory statement hardl y encourages th e reader to expect a ta le of fem a le empowerment, ca lling itse lf " the story of what a woma n' s pati e nce can endure, and w hat a Man' s reso lution can

achieve" 50 , and yet The Woman in Whit e is de sc ribed as be ing " extraordinaril y femi ni st" 51 Hartright

co nforms

appreciat ion of female c haracters,

hu sba nds . Bronte provides for the

than Co llins ' di s tant female victims, yet it is thi s

co nc lus ion , when s he is wo n back into marria ge.

Victorian expectations by a ll owing her heroi ne to many below her socia l s tatu s, and for love, like

Co lli ns' La ura , but Co llins is also ab le to maintain Marian as

This could be attrib uted to Co llins having greater confidence in addressing t he topic, as it was co ns id ered mo re appropr iate for a man to do so t han it was a woman. Consequently, thou g h both succeed in address in g ge nd er inequali ty, the ma le author, ironica lly, provides a mo re pote nt challenge to V ictorian perceptions of women than the femal e.

to the creations of the author ' s co ntemp ora ries, yet

not merely by cha llengi ng reader a more

provides a s ubtle but pro found perception s of wom en, but a lso th ei r

felt more direct ly

powerful heroin e, whose pain is

potency that emphas ises the bathos of the S he do es, nonetheless, co ntinu e to c ha llenge

a sy mbol of ind e pe nd e nce

a nd equa li ty.

c ha llenge a sy mbol of ind e pe nd e nce a nd equa

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Bibliogt·aphy

Bro nte , Anne, ' Preface to 1979, re iss ued 1984, first

the Second Edition ' of The Tenant o fWildfell Ha ll (Pengu ins Books Ltd. , pub lished 1848)

Bronte, An ne, The Tenant of Wildfe ll Ha ll (Penguin Books Ltd . 1979, reissued 1984 , first pub Iis hcd

1848)

Bronte, Anne,

Diary paper, 3 0 J uly 1841

Coll ins, Wilkie, T he Woman in W hi te (Pengu in Books Ltd., 1994, fu·st published 1868) p.l.

Gerin, Winifred, ' Introduction ' to The

1984)

Tenant ofW ildfel l Ha ll (Peng u ins Books Ltd. , 19 79 , re iss ued

G ilbert, Sa ndra and Gulbar, Susan, The Madwoman in Cen tury Literary imag ination (New Haven Press, Yale

the Attic: T he Woman Writer a nd the 19 111 University Press , 1979)

He ll er, Tamar, Dead Secrets: Wilkie Co ll ins and th e female got hic (Ya le Un iv e rs icy Press, 1992)

Humphreys, Anne, Breaking Apart: the Early Victorian d ivo rce no ve l in Victorian Woman Writers and the Woman Questioned. Nicola D iane T hompson (Cambridge Un iversity Press, 1999)

Lang la nd, Eli za beth, A nne Bronte: the other on e (Barnes and Nob le books, 1989)

Lonoff, Sue, Wilkie Co ll ins and h is Victorian read ers: a stud y in the rhetoric of a uthorsh ip (AMS Press, Inc. 1982)

Sayers, Dorothy L. , 'I ntroductio n ' to The Moonstone p.vii (J . M. Dent, I 947 )

S hake s peare, Wil li a m, A Midsummer Night ' s Dreamed. Ilarold F. Brooks (Methuen & Co. Ltd .,

19 79, re printed T ho mas Learn ing, 2000, first pub li s hed 1600)

Stewart, J . L. , Ros e-Belford ' s Canad ian Monthl y and Natio nal Revi e w (Nov 18 78)

pub li s hed 1600) Stewart, J . L. , Ros e-Belford ' s Canad ian