The Repression of Women in Victorian Society as Shown in 19th Century Literature
19th century literature reflects to a certain extent, several ways in
which women were repressed in Victorian society. They were considered
inferior to men, and given a stereotypical image, showing them as
gentle, loyal and angelic. They were rejected of any personal opinions
or independence, for these were only a man’s privilege. Class and
status also affected women of the era. Evidence for these and further
repressions can be found in the short stories of 19th century writers.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, which relates
partially to her own personal experiences as a woman under her
husbands overwhelming influence. Charles Dickens’ story ‘The Black
Veil’ also displays a view on women, as does ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ by W.
W. Jacobs, which can be portrayed as a male-dominated narrative.
Comparisons and contrasts can be made between these two novels, and
‘The Yellow Wallpaper’.
‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ shows examples of men’s attitudes towards
women, as well as women’s responses to these attitudes. The story is
based on occurrences during Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s own first
marriage. The fact that the narrative is semi-autobiographical
slightly highlights this, as she describes her relationship to ‘the
yellow wallpaper’, as she falls deeper into what we know as post-natal
depression. This use of two narratives emphasises the woman’s mental
decline, as the third person narrative takes over towards the end. The
reader is given an insight into her slowly deteriorating mind as the
first person narrative, appears to become unreliable and almost
From the outset of the story it is apparent that men were inferior to
women in every aspect. The wife’s vivid imagination of a ‘haunted
house’ brings her husband to laugh at her. This is not seen as mockery
of her thoughts for ‘one expects that’. She also has personal
disagreements with her husband’s ideas, and feels ‘congenial work,
with excitement and change’ are forbidden things which would do her
good. However she has to conceal these opinions and emotions due to
her position, and is even restricted from writing them down on paper,
as she cannot in any way reveal them ‘to a living soul’. Because ‘what
is one to do’ when under the ideas of a ‘practical husband’. John is
referred to as ‘practical in the extreme’ and the fact that he is a
‘physician’ makes his authority over his wife even greater.
The story shows the wife’s opinions obliterated by her husband’s
unquestionable power over her actions, with which no consideration was
made to what she thought was best for her recovery.
‘The Black Veil’ can also relate to this ignorant attitude. From this
story, a naïve ‘young medial...