An Image Of Victorian Society English Literature Essay

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Preceding Romanticism, Victorian novel slowly replaced the poem, thus becoming the most powerful artistic achievement. Following Charles Dickens, the first who became a successful novelist, writers such as George Eliot and William Thackeray reached the top due to their ambition in portraying facts of life as they were and facing harsh critiques because of their writings.

Probably one of the most important themes of the literary trend was women's status, that of being one step lower on the scale created by men. Thus, it became a trend for women to write under a pseudonym, such as Mary Ann Evans under the name of George Eliot. Both her and William Thackeray wrote their novels in order to highlight themes such as women's status, family matters, marriage, human condition.

The first chapter presents the events which made the period of Queen Victoria be one based on materialism, as a downfall of women's status. As for Victorianism or Victorian literature, it developed under the brilliant minds of the writers of the age.

The second chapter evolves around the realistic aspects in the two novels discussed: "Vanity Fair" and "Middlemarch". Marriage, family, hypocrisy, self-interest all round up the lives of characters who sometimes do not make the right decision in order to settle up their lives.

The third chapter presents an analysis of women's status. As women were now under the "reign" of men and their beliefs and opinions were not important, we see a burst of events in which women try to make a stand for themselves or trying to accomplish more as an attempt to reach the place in which men were.

The chapter entitled "Narrative techniques" includes the line drawn between Victorianism and Modernism and the literary trend that stood out the most in the two novels, as one could consider modernism to be highly present in both works.

"Vanity Fair", written by William Thackeray portrays both the unhappy and happy lives of the characters due to the influence of their families and the influence of war. The struggle between good and wrong, best and worst is one of the constant preoccupation of the novel, along with the life in the city. In "Vanity Fair", the author gives up all of his thoughts of idealizing any of his "heroes". Thus, he offers a picture of the Victorian period by describing society and people as they were, as simple men in which there is nothing heroic or remarkable.

"Middlemarch", written by George Eliot is at first the story of a quiet province and the daily matters of the 19th century. Throughout the novel, the struggle to cope with one's decisions and women's attempt to reach men's supremacy gives an image of a divided world, that of men and women. Moral problems and man's psychology represent a large piece in Eliot's novel.

Chapter 1 - Introducing Victorian Age and Victorianism

The Victorian Age refers to the era dominated by Queen Victoria (20 June 1837- 22 January 1901). Queen Victoria's reign lasted 63 years and 7 months and it is the period in which Britain grew as an empire, dominated by peace and self-confidence.

Chapter 2 - Realistic Aspects in William Thackeray's "Vanity Fair" and George Eliot's "Middlemarch"

For Victorian writers and especially for William Thackeray and George Eliot, Victorianism meant giving the reader the raw image of society and the character of they're characters. From the image of the pure Dorothea Brooke and the innocent Amelia Sedley to that of the scheming Rebecca Sharp or the image of the imperfect husbands George Osborne, Rawdon Crawley or Edward Casaubon, the image of the Victorian society is well defined through its characters, through their behavior, manners and betrayals.

As family was pretty much glorified and coming from a family with a solid background meant a social status, the novels discussed break the line in the image of the Victorian family. Marriage, meant for some a means of obtaining his/her role in high society. For others marriage meant searching his/her meaning in life. Sadly though, "Vanity Fair" and "Middlemarch" portray marriages that fail, this failure coming from the character's wrong choices and from their hope for a better life. But as Thackeray stated in his novel, we shouldn't blame entirely the characters for their behavior, as he didn't put blame on Becky for trying to climb the social latter, excusing her due to her lack of parent models: "If Miss Rebecca Sharp had determined in her heart upon making the conquest of this big beau, I don't think, ladies, we have any right to blame her; for though the task of husband-hunting is generally, and with becoming modesty, entrusted by young persons to their mammas, recollect that Miss Sharp had no kind parent to arrange these delicate matters for her, and that if she did not get a husband for herself, there was no one else in the wide world who would take the trouble off her hands" [1] .

Marriage was clearly influenced by society and it meant a change in its meaning. Of course, those who were from the start soul-mates were to stand off all against them but both our novels don't quite present a couple who stood off those elements against them.

2.1 Marriage and Family Matters

Starting with Amelia Sedley, the typical Victorian woman, critics and the author himself stated that she isn't the novel's main concern: "She wasn't a heroine" [2] . She was chosen by George Osborne because of their father's partnership, at first, but later when her father went bankrupt and all odds were against them , George's friend and Amelia's protector made things happen, and quite soon Amelia became Mrs. Osborne. Meanwhile, Amelia's marriage was going the usual way, only that her head was full of thoughts of guilt for George's bad luck, after being left with no money, because of his marriage to Amelia: "It is hard when, before seven days of marriage are over, such thoughts and confessions as these force themselves on a little bride's mind" [3] . Thus, there is a clear relation between Thackeray's character and Eliot's Dorothea. Just as Amelia, Dorothea married Edward Casaubon, wanting to accomplish her ideals and have a happy marriage. But six months later Dorothea was crying…it was supposed to be, as expected, a period in which two persons enjoy the most each other's presence, but nothing like this seemed to describe their honeymoon in Rome. During their stay in Rome, Dorothea realized Casaubon wasn't that much into what marriage meant. His "research" did not include Dorothea and by staying a little more in Rome, she felt she was useless. It can't be avoided that, when talking to him, he "included" her in his research: she could stack up and sort his studies. This kind of involvement though, made Dorothea full of bitter feelings and lonely days.

Before she could even think of what marriage meant to George, Amelia got trapped into a lie: that was her marriage. Even though George pretended to be at his father's home when not with Amelia and vice-versa, Amelia was blind; she had already established an image of George, that of a loving husband and a future father, and was decided to believe in that ideal. With all this…Amelia's marriage wasn't what she expected. At times she felt unhappy and alone; she contemplated at the times when her parent's love was unconditioned, just like the time when she visited them after nine days of marriage. Deep down, Amelia was fearing the worst, even if she didn't want to admit it: "Did she own to herself how different the real man was from that superb young hero whom she had worshipped?" [4] .

Heading towards Rebecca Sharp, her becoming Mrs. Crawley was only a means of leaving her past behind and imposing her as a lady of the society she was living in. After trying to catch Joseph Sedley and the proposal from Sir Pitt, she finally married Rawdon Crawley, thinking he would inherit his aunt's fortune. Her marriage with Rawdon meant the escape she was waiting for all of her life: from an orphan to a governess, from a young lady to a Lady in its literal meaning, Rebecca pulled all the strings in order to achieve her goals. Marriage didn't mean anything for Becky, at least form the sentimental point of view. Her poker face worked all those around her and she seemed to have her way, and finally get where she dreamt of being. "The girl I left behind" turned out to be, as expected, unbreakable. When the war arrived, she summed up all her belongings and felt satisfied; at least if something were to happen to Rawdon, she had the money needed for a fresh start: "If this is a novel without a hero, at least let us lay claim to a heroine" [5] .

In a typical provincial city from England, called Middlemarch, life was having it's usual way. Dorothea was living a marriage she didn't think she deserved. Also in Middlemarch, we meet the aspiring Rosamond Vincy. She married doctor Tertius Lydgate because of her dream of marrying an outsider, a new person, far away from Middlemarch customs. He …married her because it seemed right and because his feelings told him she was the one for him. But soon after, their marriage hadn't turned out as they expected, or at least as he expected. Of course at first it was all good, it was that feeling that both Amelia and Dorothea had at the time, but along the way it seemed they grew apart. Rosamond had a miscarriage, because of her being stubborn and wanting to ride a horse and Lydgate was put under pressure by the creditors. Thinking he has someone to count on, in the person of Rosamond, he related all of his worries to her. Instead of supporting him and because she was used to the way of living she had before, her only thought was to sell everything and move out. Gathering all these facts, it is only predictable that their marriage too wasn't the proper one. Because just like Dorothea and Amelia also, Lydgate made a mistake and took Rosamond as his "ideal wife" , while she was an ordinary one, mainly interested in parties, jewelry and standing out in the crowd, resembling very much to Becky Sharp.

In the society that was full of vanity, the war had terrible results and no one felt safe. Amelia was in a state of denial, Joseph contemplated running and Rebecca…well she was once again fearless and thought at her own good: "she stitched away the major part of her trinkets, bills, and bank-notes about her person, and so prepared, was ready for any event-to fly if she thought fit, or to stay and welcome the conqueror, were he Englishman or Frenchman" [6] . As for Amelia, she "was praying for George, who was lying

on his face, dead, with a bullet through his heart" [7] . Thus, for Amelia, all hell broke loose as she now found herself in a world all by herself. Pregnant and with no support, she had to face life, only that her powers were too weak. Just like Amelia, Dorothea from Middlemarch was living the same kind of drama: "what have I done - what am I - to be treated like this? He never knows what's going on inside my mind - he couldn't care less. What's the purpose of all I'm doing? I wish he wouldn't have married me!" [8] . Thus, Dorothea reached her breaking point; and it was understandable because of her husband's behavior. There can't be said that Casaubon was overwhelmed by this marriage - he was just being himself, and this was what Dorothea received. But is there someone else to blame but Dorothea? Hadn't she been warned about the flaws of marriage or about good and bad times, she could be excused for her thoughts. Initially, Celia and Mr. Brooke, even James Chettam advised her to take some time and balance the situation. Her answer: she ventured head first into a marriage, just because she thought she could accomplish all her ideals.

In the meantime, Rebecca Crawley lived her life, here and there, everywhere she could find someone to fool and extort money from. She soon realized that the fortune she was waiting for wasn't coming anymore and from there on, Rebecca's "marriage" started crumbling. Caught with Lord Steyne, she received a harsh critique from her husband and its result was one that didn't touch Rebecca's heart at all. Rawdon divorced and headed to Coventry Island where he died. She on the other hand, embraced her habits and once again restarted her life. Poor Amelia, after years of struggling, finally got the break she needed; she admitted to herself who George was and opened her heart to Captain Dobbin. Her experience of her first marriage was left behind and she looked towards the future. On the other hand, Becky Sharp…:"She never was Lady Crawley, though she continued so to call herself…She has her enemies. Who has not? Her life is her answer to them" [9] .

As for the society created in Middlemarch, the life there too, followed its course. The drama concerning Dorothea's inner soul reached its end. Casaubon died right before she could promise him not to marry Will Ladislaw. Right when her nightmare ended, instead of being happy of being released from her cage she was overwhelmed of the idea of marrying Will. Our "Saint Theresa" became Ms. Ladislaw, and although this second marriage was a happier one, she realized that her dreams and ideals couldn't be achieved.

Poor Doctor Lydgate reached his lowest low: his marriage was crumbling and he didn't seem to find a way out of his debts. Because of his debts, Rosamond changed, so it can be said that it is mainly her fault. But Lydgate should have known better and temper her appetite for having all that the upper class had. Had he done this and show Rosamond that it is not about material goods, their marriage would have been different. They now reached a point where both of them made decisions, without caring more or less about the other: he wanted to sell the house and she thought this to be an insult towards her. All in all, it gathers about their mistakes, for their desires of reaching a higher scale, without thinking about the road they had to take. Further more, along the way, Lydgate lost himself. He died at the age of 50, but not until he achieved leaving for Rosamond and their children a healthy life. Afterwards, Rosamond married another doctor, although this time, old and wealthy.

Fortunately, in both stories we find little bits of happy endings. After years of being her protector and caring for all her needs and desires, William Dobbin got the prize he wanted all his life. Finally opening her eyes, Amelia saw what was not in her eye sight many years. Thus she married Will and began a life which would offer greater joys than what she experienced with her first marriage. As for the province of Middlemarch, in which the reader was a witness of Fred Vincy's becoming a man, life kept its normal course. Underestimated by all and with the desire to become worthy of Mary Garth's feelings, Fred decided to make his life better. Thus, he balanced his life and married Mary Garth, due to their love that resisted the time until every thing was right for their beginning together.

It is strange how all of the characters lives: Dorothea and Lydgate's, Rebecca and Amelia's, had such terrible turnouts. Is it their fault or can we assume that society also had a big part in their torment? Because if society would have been better, referring to the provincial one, Dorothea wouldn't have wanted to pursue all her dreams of building houses and helping her husband finish a work which would help humanity (in some way) and Lydgate, with all of his studies and intelligence, would have made it somewhere else, not in Middlemarch, where he felt it is his duty to help those in need. If aristocratic London had different values and praised more basic things, would have Becky acted the same way, wanting a better life, at any costs, even her dignity? Or had Amelia and George gone through the same problems if their parents wouldn't have chosen for them, to later on break their deal, thus causing tension between the families???

Hypocrisy and Opportunism as Ways of Reaching Higher Status

From the start, Thackeray's intention is to create an image of the bourgeois and aristocratic England of those times. The work that defines the best his vision of the society of those times is called "The Book of Snobs", it being his start into mocking the society in which he lived. Thus he represents, through snobbery, the typical representation of an entire class, being also his starting point, from which his novels will develop.

One important part in the character's social ascension could be the art of fake and the analysis of own feelings. This is how Rebecca Sharp's story, as we know it, started: "The happiness the superior advantages of the young women round about her, gave Rebecca inexpressible pangs of envy. 'What airs that girl gives herself, because she is an Earl's grand-daughter,' she said of one. 'How they cringe and bow to that Creole, because of her hundred thousand pounds! I am a thousand times cleverer and more charming than that creature, for all her wealth. I am as well bred as the Earl's grand-daughter, for all her fine pedigree; and yet every one passes me by here. And yet, when I was at my father's, did not the men give up their gayest balls and parties in order to pass the evening with me?' She determined at any rate to get free from the prison in which she found herself, and now began to act for herself, and for the first time to make connected plans for the future" [10] . Its end, however, wasn't just as she imagined it, because of circumstances that got her from one place to another.

Anyhow, Becky Sharp could resemble a spider, in the sense that she placed her net and waited, a wait that seemed to pay off sooner than later. Out from Chiswick Mall and into the house of Amelia Sedley, our sharp character seemed to work her magic and got under everyone's skin. Nevertheless, her intentions were clear, as she had set her goal and was heading towards achieving it. Portrayed just like a flashback from her departure from Chiswick Mall, as Rebecca went into the carriage, crying, right about the corner she wiped out her tears and thought of her new life. Better chances lied for her at Queen's Crawley, rather than Russell Square, so Rebecca's new life began, once again.

It was a year since Rebecca arrived at Queen's Crawley and she was a totally different person than the one who entered Crawley domain. She became more than a governess and not by force, cause she made her way through those living there with tactic and skills. Now Rebecca was Crawley's right hand, helping and advising him in all he needed; further more, Crawley's sister, Matilda, was another character to complete the whole masquerade taking place at Queen's Crawley. Having the skills needed to succeed, Rebecca became Matilda's favorite and soon-to-be, Rawdon's favorite too. Her influence towards everyone became so clear, that at the time when Miss Rose died, Sir Pitt Crawley proposed to her, an offer that an ordinary governess couldn't have considered not accepting. But not Rebecca, because she admitted she was already married; fearing the consequences of her affair with Rawdon, she tried to figure out her new role, in telling Matilda that her husband was her beloved nephew Rawdon.

While the characters had to face war's worst blows, Mrs. Crawley fortune was still under her relative's assault. Because Barbra (Bute) Crawley had to take care of her injured husband, Pitt took over and tried his best. His engagement with Lady Jane made Matilda happy and when she received a letter from Rawdon (written by Becky), she promised the major part of her fortune to Pitt. Thus, by leaving and choosing Rawdon as her husband Rebecca lost from the start the battle for the money; all this because she broke the trust of those who trusted her. As time passed, our beloved Becky Sharp was living her life in Paris, by God knows what material support and by the time Matilda Crawley died, Queen's Crawley became like a carcass surrounded by vultures eager to eat their prey.

Becky's biggest wish of them all??? To enter high society and to be treated like royalties; and at a certain time, Lord Steyne seemed to be her entry. Once again, just like passed times, using her charm and her many personalities, she thought was facing a win-win situation. Only that this time, the unprecedented happened and she got caught: "What had happened? Was she guilty or not? She said not, but who could tell what was truth which came from those lips, or if that corrupt heart was in this case pure?" [11] . In fact it was like this, because no one could say who Becky Sharp really was, except for one person, that person being herself.

Starting from nothing, Rebecca ended up having at least a glimpse of the life she had imagined for her. All of her plans ended up by bringing her nothing because struggling for survival, she lived for a few years, a life that pleased her: surrounded by all types of shady people, scrambling for her own good and walking over dead bodies - this was her story.

Idealism and Self-Interest

"People looked at her as a person who would inherit a fortune[…] nothing could stand in her way, besides for her passion for unusual situations and the way in which she thought of establishing life from ideas that would make a man think twice before proposing[…] The majority of men thought her to be fascinating, when seeing her riding[…] With all her desire of knowing the truths of life, Dorothea had childish thoughts about marriage[…] A charming marriage has to be the one in which the husband was some sort of a parent, capable of teaching you even Hebrew, if wanted" [12] (t. n.) - this is one of the reader's first view of Dorothea. And later on, the reader will see how Dorothea's perspective of marriage and a husband will affect her entire life.

Dorothea Brooke had almost 20 years when the novel began. Her desire to built and help others was for her the ideal that she had to fulfill and because of this perspective she refused getting married with James Chettam. Perhaps because of her young age she believed that life is somehow different and she started it with a different view than usual.

Thus, her idealism turned out to be her biggest mistake…she married an old scholar who cared only for his work and didn't continue her plans of building; she saw the cracks in her marriage and still continued to support a work that in the end turned out to be nothing but filled pages of scientific facts.

"Because you always wanted things that can not be realized. If you had more realistic plans they would come true" [13] .(t. n.) - this being the sincere words of the more down-to-earth Celia, after Dorothea realized that none of her plans were fulfilled and that her life was deprived of the things she loved.

Rosamond Vincy wanted all her life to marry a man outside Middlemarch, that wasn't a typical country boy: "Now, that she met the stranger, reality proved much more impressing that anticipated, and Rosamond couldn't deny that she arrived at a crossroads in her life […] And this is how Mr. Lydgate suddenly corresponded her ideal" [14] (t. n.). Further on, a marriage done in a hurry, just like Dorothea's, proved to be one filled with ups and downs. The luxury in which Rosamond was used to live in turned out to be an important aspect of her life and from then on, Rosamond's marriage with Lydgate went on a wrong path. Trying to please his "ideal wife", Lydgate tried all his best but unfortunately with no results. Rosamond acted like she cared only for her, and in fact she was the most important person in her life, because she became a self-centered person and a wife that only had complaints.

Chapter 3 - Status of Women

The Victorian Era had its tall on the women's living in that period. The concept of 'pater familias" may have been their beginning as the person subjected to her husband. Thus, their role was to respect, cherish, love and support their husbands. As for their role in society, women were secondary to their husbands.

The woman in the Victorian Era was believed to be the ideal of what a woman could be: she should behave properly and obey her husband, creating the archetype of the ideal woman as mother, wife and homemaker. Further more, a married woman had no rights to her fortune, the husband being the one who dealt with it, her income was taken by the husband and even if their marriage wasn't a proper one, the woman would think twice before divorcing, because of the father's rights to keep their children. This situation however changed, due to the "Custody of Infants Acts. In 1878, in "Matrimonial Causes Act, was added a claim from which women were granted separation and child custody if their husbands abused them. In 1884, "Married Women's Property" released women from their husbands cage, as they were recognized as individuals. Throughout the years, women's status changed drastically: in 1857 violence was recognized as grounds of divorce, in 1870 women would keep the money they earned and in 1878 they had the entitlement to spousal and child support recognized.

Despite living in the same society, education didn't apply the same, this being a reason for women's difficulty of making it out on their own. Their range of study could only go so far, like history, geography, literature, painting, drawing, singing, not giving them the chance to expand their knowledge but just a base, from which they could make discussions of. University was considered a man's thing and only a few women went to university, to later on stay at the same table, as men did.

The working-class of women was clearly put below man's work. Even though they did the same kind of labour as men did, they were paid less; and as an added itm to that period, pregnant women would go to work until the day they gave birth and returned as soon as they could take the physical work. Later on, the 19th century brought women an open door towards other working places, such as: nursing, midwifery and doctoring. Even with this, men took their supremacy further and did not allow women to work as doctors, leaving them with choosing nursing instead.

In his "Subjection of women", John Stuart Mill disagrees with the women's perception in those times and offers a critique of the treatment they received : " I deny that any one knows and can know, the nature of the two sexes, as long as they have only been seen in their present relation to one another. Until conditions of equality exist, no one can possibly asses the natural differences between women and men, distorted as they have been. What is natural to the two sexes, can only be found out by allowing both to develop and use their faculties free".

3.1 Surpassing her own condition or at least "a try"; The Ascension or The Downfall?

As this subchapter is entitled "The Ascension or The Downfall", we are going to focus our attention strictly on the character's road towards achieving their ideals or if their journey has been one in which they degraded further more their personality.

In his "Novel without a hero", Thackeray presents characters which do not sum up the features of a hero and also he presents a society, through his characters life style.

Rebecca Sharp, an orphan, who grew up at Chiswick Mall, has an early desire to overstep her condition of a poor lonely girl. So she starts her ascension right from the moment in which she leaves behind Mrs. Pinkerton's Chiskwick Mall. Trying to escape from her parent's past, although very much influenced by them, Rebecca will impersonate very much her parent's behavior, her early encounter with education making Becky realize that she is going to base her life on anything else but education. While at Chiswick Mall, the treatment received from Mrs. Pinkerton made her wish escaping that place, because she was treated different, because of her past and almost because of her father's past, unlike Amelia who received, when leaving, a book close to Mrs. Pinkerton's heart. Due to her mother's background Rebecca spoke very well French and taught the girls at Chiswick Mall even to sing, another quality inherited form her mother. But her mother's image and father's lost life would influence Rebecca to a certain degree that she, in the end, ended up just like them, having a dishonoring life.

When leaving, happily, Chiswick Mall, Rebecca's only hope was to get married and live a decent and normal life; only that the change of the environment she lived in until then, changed her perspective and she began to see the other side of life. After a short period spent at Russell Square, she went on to Queen's Crawley to become a governess, and indeed she became one but not the usual type, obedient and helpful. She got under her master's skin and made him become addicted to her like being addicted to opium, in such a way that when she left for a period to Park Lane, to serve Matilda Crawley, Sir Pitt's life became a total mess. Later on, she married Rawdon Crawley and everyone saw pieces of her real face. Thus, by marrying Rawdon and starting a new life, she broke the archetype of the ideal woman, who after marriage became a wife, mother and homemaker and built her character as conniving and manipulative. And to turn things even more around, one could say that her husband became the wife, the homemaker and certainly the mother of their son, little Rawdon.

On the other hand, Amelia Sedley was the exact opposite of her friend, or foe, Rebecca Sharp. She also went to Chiswick Mall, where she stayed for 6 years but unlike Becky, her departure was like a funeral to all those who met her. She became a young lady, beautiful, obedient, friendly, carefully with other's feelings and embraced all the knowledge she could take in. Her family was one respected by society and her education was a thing of pride for her parents and after she married George Osborne, her life circled around her husband and son, unlike Rebecca, who could care less for the first two men in her life.

"The fact is, both girls had their own real affairs to think of: Rebecca her advance with her employers-Amelia her own absorbing topic. When the two girls met, and flew into each other's arms with that impetuosity which distinguishes the behavior of young ladies towards each other, Rebecca performed her part of the embrace with the most perfect briskness and energy. Poor little Amelia blushed as she kissed her friend, and thought she had been guilty of something very like coldness towards her" [15] .