Dickens' Image of Women Exposed in Great Expectations
Much can be said about Dickens' view of women according to the way he constructs his female characters in Great Expectations. There are many of them in the novel. However, none of them are deeply focused on throughout the novel. Estella, who is one of Pip's "great expectations," does not even have a major role. Nevertheless, his attitude concerning women is still reflected through his female characters as well as his word usage towards them. Of course, studying his life is also helpful. A great deal of criticism has connected Dickens' female characters in novels with women in his life. It should be noted that Dickens' novels go beyond characterizing the people he knew. His words also bring to light his views on the women of his time. In Great Expectations one can see how the women who fit Dickens' ideas were rewarded with happy lives, usually in the form of marriage. On the other hand, the women who did not conform to these ideas were punished in one way or another. Even though not all of Dickens' attitudes reflected what was typical of the period, many did. Great Expectations is a reflection of those attitudes that were most likely encouraged by the women in his life.
The first woman in Dickens' life was his mother, Elizabeth. He resented his mother greatly for the way she treated him as a child. Her actions toward him as a child filled him with anger because he felt she was not as loving and encouraging as she should have been which, in turn, held him back. As Michael Slater points out in his book, Dickens and Women, "Dickens' wife noticed his greater harshness towards Elizabeth. . . . [E]ven his father's imprisonment is made to seem the direct result of her incompetence" (10). The female characters that resemble Dickens' mother portray this incompetence. However, there are many other traits that his female characters embody that do not have anything to do with his mother.
Dickens' first true love Maria, his wife Catherine, his sisters-in-law, and his lover Ellen are all portrayed by the characters in his novels. For example, Dickens' love for Maria was great, like that of Pip's for Estella. And, like Estella, Maria teased and tormented Dickens. His wife Catherine is also thought to be the base of some of his characters. Dickens' marriage with Catherine ended in a separation because of their incompatibility with one another. However, their relationship was not always bad. They had ten children together and, as Slater states, "the two spheres 'work' and 'home' were not to be sexually segregated as in so many Victorian marriages" (108). Dickens trusted Catherine's opinions about his work, which was very important to him. However, his relations with women did not end with his wife. He also had deep connections with his sisters-in-law, which were considered by many to be more than a tight knit brother/sister-like relationship. Catherine's...