Morality in Victorian and Neo-Victorian Novels
An essay on Jane Eyre, The Mill on the Floss,
The French Lieutenant's Woman, Possession and The Dress Lodger
The Victorian era is one bound to morality. Morality is also defined through the traditional and religious standards that structure the way of life for many Victorians. Morality is defined as the proper principles and standards, in respect to right and wrong, which are to be practiced by all humanity. Ideally, these include obtaining decent careers, being sexually inactive prior marriage, and being faithful when married. Who defines proper behaviour for Victorians? Mainly, the idea of what is right or wrong is based upon the traditions practiced by one's forefathers, along with the religious upbringings they receive since childhood. Morality is held in such high regard by the Victorians that many of their works of literature are based upon the way one should morally live. These works that set out to instruct are called didactic. Following suit, Neo Victorian literature is written to exaggerate the morality presented in Victorian literature. Nonetheless, didactic literature of the past and present displays good morals with the intention to teach proper conduct either directly or obliquely to its readers; within Victorian novels this is done openly through oral preaching, whereas in Neo-Victorian novels this is accomplished implicitly by means of satire. Such Victorian novels as Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot, and Neo-Victorian works as The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles, Possession by A.S Byatt and The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman are essentially about how one should morally live. This is demonstrated by the issues of class warfare and chastity before and within marriage that the characters struggle with in order to teach readers of the past, present and future the differences between the moral and immoral way of life in the Victorian era. However, these issues are presented in their immoral state to display the moral right. This is furthered enhanced by the difference between the social classes and genders; what is genuinely wrong for one class or gender is not always wrong for the other.
The issue of class warfare is presented through many aspects, mainly occupation and sexuality. Surprisingly, both aspects intertwine and reflect Victorian ideas about such issues. Both authors chose to demonstrate the expected morality within labour (if one is so unfortunate to possess one) through the immoral characters of prostitutes and the men who come to them. Contradicting Victorian notions, Neo Victorian novels present prostitutes as not rootless social outcasts but as poor, independent, working women - they are unfortunate females just trying to make ends meet. They are primarily young, single women, few of whom support illegitimate children. Prostitution offers young women more independence, economically and socially, than would otherwise...