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Defining The Victorian Woman Essay

1866 words - 7 pages

Defining the Victorian Woman

 
     In the Victorian Age, there existed a certain ideology of what constituted the

perfect Victorian woman. In the beginning of the eighteenth century, young girls

began attending schools that offered basic skills such as reading, writing, and

math. Manuals of etiquette and conduct instructed young girls in manners of

society and the home (Basch 3). All of this prepared a young woman for marriage,

which, in the nineteenth century, was "put forward as being the culminating

point of a woman's life" (Basch 16). Thus, the perfect woman was also the

perfect wife, an active part of the family, with specific regard to the children

(Vicinus ix). Yet, although the perfect woman was a married woman, not all

marriages were perfect. Victorian society set strict standards for the roles of

women, specifically middle class women, as wives and mothers. Women often did

not benefit from being married in many respects, such as their personal rights.

In addition, the census of 1850 "revealed a significant imbalance between the

sexes," creating a surplus of single women (Lerner 176). Many of these single

women joined the ranks of spinsters and old maids due to this imbalance in the

population. However, society did not give unmarried women the same roles as

married women. Society challenged these women because it believed that a woman

without a husband was worthless. Society did not respect the position of these

unmarried women, often making them outcasts. Yet, there esd a small sect of

unmarried women that did not allow society's rules to interfere with their idea

of what life should be like. These women laughed at society's idea of the

perfect woman. Victorian society, therefore, presents different models for the

women of its society based on their role in that society and whether they are

married or not.

 

Most often, marriage defined a woman's status and her attitude and emotions.

Married women represented the angel of the house. Women learned "passive virtues

of patience, resignation, and silent suffering" (Lerner 175). Women were

expected to take care of their families and the home as if it were the only

thing that mattered in the world. A good wife did not want to be outside the

home or do anything that would distract her from her duties. These virtues

characterized their lives. Society directed their use of them to guide their

families emotionally and morally as wife and mother. Women always maintained

their submissive, dependent status in their marriage (Basch 6). This idea of

wife as an inspiration was central to the Victorian concept of the home and its

meaning. Because the Victorians viewed the home as the haven from evil, it only

made sense that the woman's place, with these prescribed virtues, was in the
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