"I am a Free Human Being With an Independent Will": Resisting the Victorian Patriarchy
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Victorian authors Wilkie Collins, Anne Brontë, and Charlotte Brontë create female characters in their novels who resist the Victorian patriarchal culture through their speech, behavior, and writing. Although female characters in all three novels use speech, behavior, and writing to resist the patriarchal culture, I argue that writing is the most effective form of resistance. In a culture bent on suppressing women's spoken voices, writing grants the female characters in these novels a platform, albeit a risky one, to voice their thoughts regarding society's customs, laws, and structure, without concern for social propriety. Drawing from Victorian era conduct manuals and twentieth- and twenty-first-century feminist literary criticism, I argue that Marian Holcombe, in Wilkie Collins' THE WOMAN IN WHITE, Helen Huntingdon, in Anne Brontë's THE TENANT OF WILDFELL HALL, and Jane Eyre, in Charlotte Brontë's JANE EYRE, all work to resist the subjugation by the Victorian patriarchal culture through their writings. In addition to these three Victorian texts, I analyze two characters from two European texts: Corinne, in Germaine de Staël's novel, CORINNE, OR ITALY, and Nora, in Henrik Ibsen's play, A DOLL'S HOUSE, to reiterate the prevalence of the struggle for female liberation and society's unwelcoming reception of dominant females. Collectively, these works of fiction demonstrate women's resistance to the pervasive patriarchal culture in the nineteenth century. While the female characters in all of these texts demonstrate resistance, only Helen Huntingdon and Jane Eyre achieve unrestricted liberation. Through Corinne's, Marian's, Helen's, and Jane's writings, readers are made aware of the double standards in the treatment of men and women, the abuse of power within marriages, and the expectation that women would faithfully follow society's every directive to women. These female characters remind society that women are human beings with independent wills and have the courage to resist an oppressive patriarchy.