Gender roles in the Victorian Era were strict and well-defined. A typical female was seen as “weak, frail, and hysterical” (Stearns 2012). The ideal woman was seen as an angel of the house, one in which would perfect domestic duties and constantly be placed under the patriarchal nature of society, while also being weak, frail, and hysterical. Authors Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens both challenge this traditional view of women in society. Collins and Dickens do not adhere to representing strictly construed gender roles. However, the ways in which the two authors challenge these roles differ. Collin’s challenges society’s definition of an ideal woman by his character Marian Halcombe, a strong female character who portrays typically male traits for the Victorian Era. Dickens also challenges the Victorian ideal woman, but challenges it by placing value in his character Nancy, a prostitute with an extremely positive moral value.
Wilkie Collins’s challenges the Victorian era’s typical female gender role in his book The Woman in White with one of the main narrators, Marian Halcombe. His narrative style of writing depicts the story from multiple first person points of view. Marian Halcombe’s diary is one of the most significant to the novel. Collins’s novel is known for challenging gender roles, and Marian Halcombe doesn’t go unnoticed by critics. His novel includes a “strong thematic concern with how the identities of all Victorian women were constituted and regulated” (Liddle 2009) in this society. Marian’s masculinity, however, challenges the typical female gender role for Victorian society, and the respect Marian receives delivers Collins point that women do not need to be weak to be admirable.
Marian is respected in the novel by Count Fosco, one of the strong, villainous, male characters. Fosco’s personality fascinates readers, and his opinion of Marian reflects the respect that many readers have for her as well. Fosco describes Marian’s character as he describes the pages of her diary. “The tact which I find here, the discretion, the rare courage, the wonderful power of memory, the accurate observation of character, the easy grace of style” (Collins 330), etc. The words found here, among more that follow, depict qualities of Marian that are not weak, frail, or hysterical. He describes her as courageous, strong, and intelligent, which are qualities often relating to men, yet he still admires her. Clyde Hyder explains that readers also share Fosco’s admiration of Marian. She is considered Collins’s “most memorable” character next to Fosco himself (Hyder 1939). “The Woman in White inspired several letters from bachelors who expressed their wish to marry the original of Marian” (Hyder 1939). Collins efficiently reiterated the female gender role through her strong and courageous nature enough to have real men from the Victorian era want to marry Marian, which is monumental for his society.
Sarah Lennox writes an article that argues the...