Looking At Villains In Victorian Literature

923 words (4 pages) Essay in English Literature

27/04/17 English Literature Reference this

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The emergence of the sensation novel in the 1860s marked the arrival of a new generation of female protagonists. The angelic wives and daughters of previous genres were replaced by scheming bigamists, would-be murderesses and treacherous adulteresses, who were prepared to use whatever means necessary, including their sexuality, to achieve their purpose. The transformation of the villain from the typical lower-class male of previous literary genres (epitomised by Dickens) to the seemingly innocent angel of the hearth simultaneously shocked and thrilled Victorian readers and critics alike. The suggestion that a woman would use her sexuality in order to commit crimes such as bigamy and fraud, that she would marry purely for her own personal (usually financial) gain, and not out of love, outraged the moralists of the time and captivated every class of reader. Numerous critics campaigned against the depiction of characters such as Braddon’s Lady Audley (Lady Audley’s Secret) and Collins’ Lydia Gwilt (Armadale), protesting that sensation novels were ‘debasing to everyone concerned’ (Oliphant, 1867, in Pykett, 1992: 48) and a ‘morbid phenomenon of literature – indications of a widespread corruption, of which

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The emergence of the sensation novel in the 1860s marked the arrival of a new generation of female protagonists. The angelic wives and daughters of previous genres were replaced by scheming bigamists, would-be murderesses and treacherous adulteresses, who were prepared to use whatever means necessary, including their sexuality, to achieve their purpose. The transformation of the villain from the typical lower-class male of previous literary genres (epitomised by Dickens) to the seemingly innocent angel of the hearth simultaneously shocked and thrilled Victorian readers and critics alike. The suggestion that a woman would use her sexuality in order to commit crimes such as bigamy and fraud, that she would marry purely for her own personal (usually financial) gain, and not out of love, outraged the moralists of the time and captivated every class of reader. Numerous critics campaigned against the depiction of characters such as Braddon’s Lady Audley (Lady Audley’s Secret) and Collins’ Lydia Gwilt (Armadale), protesting that sensation novels were ‘debasing to everyone concerned’ (Oliphant, 1867, in Pykett, 1992: 48) and a ‘morbid phenomenon of literature – indications of a widespread corruption, of which they are in part both the effect and the cause’ (Mansel, 1863, in Pykett, 1992: 51).

‘ I do not say that Robert Audley was a coward, but I will admit that a shiver of horror, something akin to fear, chilled him to the heart, as he remembered the horrible things that have been done by women, since that day upon which Eve was created to be Adam’s companion and help-meet in the garden of Eden. What if this woman’s hellish power of dissimulation should be stronger than the truth, and crush him? She had not spared George Talboys when he had stood in her way, and menaced her with a certain peril; would she spare him who threatened her with a far greater danger? Are women merciful, or loving, or kind in proportion to their beauty and their grace? 273-4 las

‘I did remember this; and it was, perhaps, this that made me selfish and heartless; for I suppose I am heartless. As I grew older I was told that I was pretty–beautiful–lovely-bewitching. I heard all these things at first indifferently; but by-and-by I listened to them greedily, and began to think that in spite of the secret of my life I might be more successful in the world’s great lottery than my companions. I had learnt that which in some indefinite manner or other every schoolgirl learns sooner or later–I learned that my ultimate fate in life depended upon my marriage, and I concluded that if I was indeed prettier than my schoolfellows, I ought to marry better than any of them.’350

Fetterley argues that Jean Muir’s story ‘articulates a radical critique of the cultural constructs of “femininity” and “little womanhood,” exposing them as roles that women must play, masks they must put on in order to survive. Therefore, Jean must play the role of the passive and submissive beauty, but with the calculation of a predator, in order to attain the wealth and status she desperately desires.’¬†[9]¬†This is undeniably accurate, and Jean’s letters to her co-conspirator, Hortense, reveal that she calculates her every move with the ‘cunning of a predator.’ As Jean embarks on her new life as Lady Coventry the burning of her letters is the symbolic rejection of her past life but the successful destruction of the ‘cunning predator’s’ past life also symbolises victory and further empowerment of the ungovernable female.

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La totally focused on her own social needs self-centred appears to have no feelings whatsoever. Ideal heroine someone like Florence dombey 1848 of this novel to tie in with 1860s lizzie Hexam our mutal friend 1864 perhaps self-sacrificing motherly caring epitome angel. Everything la is not. Abandons child. Success means money and security no room for love.

Lydia ‘you know the wickedness I have committed’ Juliet john ‘Lydia Gwilt underestimates her own capacity for humane and generous feeling, finally making the ultimate self-sacrifice by laying down her own life. Her suicide is not simply prompted by love, however, it is also the result of intense misery and self-loathing.’ 207. Lydia emotional has always been control of her actions suicide ultimate form of control as she evades punishment for her scandalous deeds.

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