Victorian Literature: Anglo-American Feminism, French Feminism

ssignment Title: ‘Compare and Assess at least two of the following approaches in feminist theory, with illustration from two of the Victorian texts you have studied: Anglo-American feminism; French Feminism; Socialist or Marxist Feminism; feminist approaches influenced by Foucault. ‘ ‘I declare that this is my own work and that I have followed the code of academic good conduct and have sought, where necessary, advice and guidance in the proper presentation of my work. ‘
Signature: Date: Compare and Assess at least two of the following approaches in feminist theory, with illustration from two of the Victorian texts you have studied: Anglo-American Feminism; French Feminism; Socialist or Marxist Feminism; Feminist Approaches influenced by Foucault. ‘ Feminist theory like psychoanalytic theory is relatively modern in its creation. The immergence of feminist literary theories can be linked to the out break of female political uprising in the early nineteenth century.
The French Revolution marked the beginning of a fight for the obtaining of women’s rights to power and equality in society. Elaine Showalter comments that the ideological socially acceptable view of Victorian women as a whole can be seen as ‘… prescribed a woman who would be a Perfect Lady, an Angel in the House, contently submissive to men, but strong in inner purity and religiosity, queen in her own realm of the Home. (Victorian Women’s Poets, Page 13)

Feminist theory is segregated into separate view points of feminism as a whole; French Feminism analyses literature from a perspective of a psychoanalytic view, drawing upon the work of Lacan to highlight view points. It helps to analyse the ways in which women are positioned in society in the text and how they can be perceived to be repressed. Marxist Feminism takes its inspiration from how the women can be perceived to be oppressed in literature. American feminism analyses literature from a textual expressive view point.
All feminist out looks have their issues which provide flaws into their argument. ‘To be sure, most feminist thinkers today assume that nurture, at the very least, qualifies nature. Recently, however, a number of poststructuralist theorists – deploying both male and female signatures – have claimed that there is no gendered “reality,” that the concepts of “man” and “woman” are, as some would put it, “always already” fictive since human identity is itself a tenuous, textually produced epiphenomenon. ‘ (No Man’s Land. Pagexv).
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronti?? provided feminist critics with a canvas of a examples of marginally autobiographical Victorian gynocentrism. The production of text from a woman, looking at the emphasis placed on the female place in the history of the text, the structural placing of women and the thematic view of women in the text. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar argue that women writers such as Emily Bronti?? had been trapped into the roles that society has manipulated, as they were trapped against the patriarchal view of the angel of the house.
However even thought there is a desire for this view to be usurped, Bronte still curtails herself to society’s expectations by debilitating and eventually killing off of the strong rebellious charcter of Catherine, emphasising her own fear of what the female form in which she was writing. Gilbert and Gubar’s reading of Wuthering Heights classes it as a ‘A bible of Hell. ‘ (Gilbert, S & Gubar, S. Mad woman in the attic) The classification of Wuthering heights as a living hell is created in type by the Byronic hero of Heathcliff.
Although Gilbert and Gubar look into the curtailment of women being confined to the house, trapped into submission by domesticity, Wuthering Heights provides Catherine with her own sense of control where she can break social confinements. Yet Catherine chooses to be confined by domesticity and social patriarchy by marrying Edgar Linton. Bronte does however portray the confusion Catherine feels in making her choice between what she desires and what is socially expected; You love Mr Edgar because he is handsome, and young, and cheerful, and rich and loves you. The last, however, goes for nothing – You would love him without that, probably, and with it, you wouldn’t, unless he possessed the four former attractions. ‘ (Wuthering Heights, Page 119)Through the use of the second generation Cathy, Bronte allows the correction from cultural to natural choice to be made via the successful relationship between Cathy and Hareton.
Kristeva comments on the text ‘presses the linguistic sign to its limits, the semiotic is fluid, plural, a kind of pleasurable creative excess over precise meaning and it takes sadistic delight in destroying or negating such signs. ‘ (Literary Theory: an introduction). The dual nature of narration in the novel serves thematic purposes, in that both provide commentary on the role of women in society. The feminist nature of the novel can be seen through Lockwood’s comments on the success of Nelly’s narrative story telling.
Bronte manipulates the Victorian view that women have innate frailty and makes a parody out if the view by portraying Catherine’s illness as a strength in which she is manipulating those around her through Nelly’s perception; ‘I wasted no condolences on miss, nor any expostulations on my mistress, not did I pay attention to the sighs of my master, who yearned to hear his lady’s name, since he might not hear her voice. ‘ (Wuthering Heights, Page 158) Catherine’s subsequent illness shows itself in the form of a disillusioned madness.
Bronte’s use of this madness is to offer clarity to the social structure that the very cultural expectations of Catherine are the things that cause the feared wild nature to develop; ‘This feather was picked up from the heath, the bird was shot – we saw its nest in the winter, full of little skeletons. Heathcliff set a trap over it, and the old ones dare not come. I made him promise he’d never shoot a lapwing, after that, and he didn’t. Yes, here are more! Did he shoot my lapwings, Nelly? Are they red, any of them? Let me look. (Wuthering Heights, Page 160) Gilbert and Gubar view Catherine’s imprisonment in Thrushcross Grange as the reason for her being trapped into a feminine madness; ‘Imprisonment leads to madness, solipsism, paralysis … Starvation – both in the modern sense of malnutrition and the archaic Miltonic sense of freezing (‘to starve in ice’) – leads to weakness, immobility and death. (Rylance, Page 253) Catherine’s embracing of Victorian societal views that kept her from being with Heathcliff. Included in these views are the expectations of women.
It is important to note because the awareness of social standing and gender in this example prevent true love prevailing. Bronte also argues that Catherine’s inability to resist social ambition is reflective of the oppressive power of the social structure of the Victorian society. Bronte feminises Lockwood by giving him the typically female characteristic of frailty, according to Beth Newman ‘Lockwood’s supine passivity (he is bed ridden during most of her narrative) suggests that he is in the “feminine” position with respect to Nelly’s controlling gaze. (Gender, Narration and Gaze in Wuthering Heights, Page 1034). Emily Bronte portrays Hareton as a model man who does not fear women but does not repress them either, this is marked through his not hiding away from Cathy’s advances;
“Helene Cixous has written that the Medusa who has terrorized the male subject, looked at “straight on,” is actually “beautiful… and … Laughing” Bronte has uncannily anticipated Cixous’s analysis of the masculine fear of the woman’s gaze in suggesting that Hareton, alone among the male characters in the novel, is able to laugh back. (Gender, Narration and Gaze in Wuthering Heights, Page 1037). The splitting and fragmentation of Catherine’s feminine desire through the lack of a stable identity, she is Catherine Earnshaw, Catherine Heathcliff and Catherine Linton at the same time. The theme of heaven and hell is prevalent most through Heath cliff’s representation as a satanic wild figure that should be feared. Bronte links Heathcliff to the wildness of nature through his name; he becomes one with the heath surrounding the heights.
Catherine expresses her own desire to be associated with Heathcliff through “If I were in Heaven, Nelly, I should be extremely miserable. ‘ ‘Because you are not fit to go there,’ I answered. ‘All sinners would be miserable in heaven. ‘… ‘I was only going to say that heaven did not seem to be my home; and it broke my heart with weeping to come back to earth; and the angels were so angry that they flung me out, into the middle of the heath on the top of Wuthering Heights, where I woke sobbing for joy. ‘ (Wuthering Heights, Page 121) Bronte uses the binary opposition to emphasise Catherine’s ideal of Heaven being Heathcliff.
Yet due to the confinement of social expectation Catherine turns her back on Heaven and places herself in the Hell that is Thrushcross Grange causing a fragmented version of herself to become her existence. Kristeva comments on Wuthering Heights lack of ability to have a simplistic narrative form, there is a use of multiple genres to create the complex binary oppositions. The use of the re-emergence of the choice between patriarchy and desire through Cathy has the object of; ‘articulating the mother-child relation as a site for both affirm the archaic force of the pre-oedipal, which although repressed is thus also preserved.
Both affirm the fluid, polymorphous perverse status of libidinal drives and both evoke a series of sites of bodily pleasure capable of resisting the demands of the symbolic order. ‘ (Jacques Lacan; A feminist Introduction, Page 149) ‘Thus, although Wuthering Heights ends in cosy domesticity, the gaps in its enunciation express a feminist resistance to the patriarchal order in which its story partially acquiesces: for the narrative undercuts the condition of its own telling even while implicating them in specular economy that fetishizes and appropriates women. ‘ (Gender, Narration and Gaze in Wuthering Heights, Page 1039)
Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market expresses the frustrations from enforced female passivity, articulating bitterness about being the second sex, and the limitations on female potential; this is evident through out the poem, culminating as two women become what Victorian patriarchy predetermines, wives and mothers. Goblin Market shows women in social relations, in market economies in literary history and women in sexual economics. Elizabeth Helsinger explains that Goblin Market is ‘A feminist utopia based on sisterhood against male domination and ‘the male’ market or a legitimating of separate spheres? Victorian studies, 1991). Goblin Market allows Rossetti the opportunity to escape the archaic patriarchy and create a fantasy realm.
Rossetti allows Lizzie and Laura an insight into the male commodities of male utopia that is the market place, and how to successfully regain equal control. ‘This is a morally nonsense poem, which puts religious myth and sexual temptation into a market economy which is endlessly unstable. ‘ (Victorian Women’s Poets, Page 138). Rossetti’s creation of sisterly solidarity gives a feminine outlook; ‘Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices Squeezed from goblin fruits for you,
Goblin pulp and Goblin Dew. Eat me, drink me, love me; For your sake I have braved the glen And had to do with goblin merchant men. ‘ (A Choice of Christina Rossetti’s verse, Page 16). ‘The sexual suggestiveness of ‘Goblin Market’ has undoubtedly made it a compelling work for feminist readers concerned with what constitutes a distinctly female imagination. ‘ (‘A Music of Thine own. ‘ Victorian Womens Poets, Page 50). “Goblin Market’, the title poem of Christina Rossetti’s first volume, is the questioning feminine discourse it masks. ‘ (‘A Music of Thine own’: Womens Poetry. Victorian Womens Poets, Page 49)
Rossetti’s representation of sexuality is not in the names or images she finds but in the structure of the whole poem with its repeated tasting. ‘ (‘A Music of Thine own’: Womens Poetry. Victorian Womens Poets, Page 49) In many respects Goblin Market is directly contradictory to many nineteenth century views about the role of the woman poet. Mary Ann Stoddart, 1842, defines the sphere of the poetess as: “All that is beautiful in form, delicate in sentiment, graceful in action will form the peculiar province of the gentle powers of women”. Goblin Market can be said to have none of these qualities.
This metrical indulgence, gives Goblin Market a sensual art for art’s sake, which is usually reserved for male poets, making this offering to the public by a poetess incompatible with Victorian notions of female poetic beauty Laura performs a familiar role in literary history – that of the fallen Eve. She relinquishes herself to the sexual temptation offered by the evil goblin men. Her sin is compounded by prostitution in selling a lock of her hair in return for the fruits. This can be viewed as an act of rape; the goblins cut her hair for payment, when, at the time, a woman’s hair was a somewhat sacred thing.
The fallen woman is a common figure in literature, however, because she comes from the creative mind of a female poet the representation comes to have a few problems in its interpretation. Yet still, Laura receives her salvation, from her sin of eating the fruit, through the self-sacrificing actions of her sister. Lizzie plays the male role of redemption. While Rossetti can be viewed in opposition to the Victorian ideals of female creativity, there is an inherent conservatism in her work that creates problems with the idea of her being a truly radical or feminist writer.
Unlike the other Pre-Raphaelite poets, Rossetti does not embrace atheism, but rather adheres to a strict Anglo-Catholic faith “Goblin Market’ is Christina Rossetti’s most remarkable long poem. She was also a writer of consummate lyrics. What can be called the feminine discourse which respondes to the aesthetics of expression and repression overflow and barrier, in ‘Goblin Market’, is also at work in her short poems. ‘ (‘A music of thine own’:Womens Poetry, Victorian Womens Poets, Page 54).
Through both of the texts analyzed it is important to notice that as Showalter states that it is in fact, “female imagination’ cannot be treated by literary historians as a romantic or Freudian abstraction. It is the product of a delicate network of influences operating in a time, and it must be analyzed as it expresses itself, in language and in a fixed arrangement of words on a page, a form that itself is subject to a network of influences and conventions, including the operations of the marketplace. ‘ (Victorian Women’s Poets, Page 12) Both Emily Bronte and Christina Rossetti were classed as typically romantic Victorian women’s writers.
However this view is highly problematic as both women try to break the curtailments of Victorian archaic patriarchy in their work, constantly testing and pushing the boundaries of female authorship; ‘Romance fiction deals above all with the doubts and delights of heterosexuality, an institution which feminism has seen as problematic from the start. In thinking about this ‘problem’ I myself have found the psychoanalytic framework most useful since it suggests that the acquisition of gendered subjectivity is a process, a movement towards the social ‘self’ , fraught with conflicts and never fully achieved.
Moreover, psychoanalysis takes the question of pleasure seriously, both in its relation to gender and in its understanding of fictions as fantasies, as the explorations and productions of desires which may be excess of the socially possible or acceptable. It gives us ways into the discussion of popular culture which can avoid the traps of moralism or dictatorship. ‘ (Romance Fiction, Female sexuality and class. Page 142)

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