The role of women and men through history has been discussed many times. And the prevalence and hegemony of one of them above the other is a controversial topic that many writers and experts have kept in mind. But this time the focus is made mainly on two novels, and only one period: the Victorian era. Two of the most important novels about this theme are: "Wuthering Heights" by Emily Brontë, and "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" written by Thomas Hardy. Both master pieces have made and set changes in the social life of this period, and have been the initial point to establish some other changes. This paper will analyse how men have always had an important role in history; how they have controlled their surroundings; the place women have been placed; the relationship between our characters and why it reflects the culture and society of the Victorianism.
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The Victorian period is placed in the last part of the nineteenth century, from 1837 to 1901. It entails a great economic progress and the Industrial Revolution. Even though the society lived in terrible social positions, this period was non-violent. A wide optimism characterised the evolution of the cultural life. As a part of culture, in literature, the novel represents a realist, liberal and partially critical line against the society.
Emily Brontë (1818-1848) expresses in her novels the most romantic and subjective feelings. As Brontë relates in her novel, "My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff's miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning: my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished, and he remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it." (Brontë 81). In contrast, Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) belongs to the popular life, but adding a pessimistic concept. In his works prevails the blind fate. The first sign exposed about this fate is the death of Prince. Tess pronounced these words when she saw her horse lying down, "'Tis all my doing, all mine!; -the girl cried, gazing at the spectacle.- No excuse for me, none. What will mother and father live on now? Aby, Aby!- she shook the child, who had slept soundly through the whole disaster.- We can't go on with our load, Prince is killed!". (Hardy 27). Tess thinks it is all her fault, and acts like if there is no solution. She is making a tragedy and a drama of this situation.
After reading the novels, the reader may notice how some of the characters are stronger than others, they may lead and manipulate; or subjugate and obey other figures. Analysing background information, it can be stated that women have usually been under men's control. They were supposed to please their husbands, to be in the house taking care of the children, and also should be delicate and tender. In other words, they should be the ideal woman. In the words of Welter, "The attributes of True Womanhood, by which a woman judged herself and was judged by her husband, her neighbours, and society could be divided into four cardinal virtues- piety, purity, submissiveness and domesticity" (Welter 152). But this pressure in society was not only for women, but also for men. They must also follow a social behaviour, named: "no sissy stuff: a stigma is attached to feminine characteristics; the big wheel: men need success and status; the sturdy oak: men should have toughness, confidence and self-reliance; give 'em hell: men should have an aura of aggression, daring and violence." ("Gender Stereotypes: Masculinity and Femininity" 162). And those novels show different responses to these situations and features, as this paper will analyse afterwards.
In both novels it is shown some situations that may agree with those features mentioned before, or be against them. In Wuthering Heights, Catherine, the protagonist, has the tendency to please all the men figures in her life. First of all, her behaviour with her father is constantly the same. If she behaves wrongly or disobeys her father's orders, she always comes to him at the end of the day, tries to make him happy, and sometimes she obtained it. Mr. Earnshaw forgets whatever she had done. She wanted him to be happy with her: "After behaving as badly as possible all day, she sometimes came fondling to make it up at night." (Brontë 49). Apart from her father, she also wanted to please her beloved Heathcliff. They were always playing and spending time together, and she really enjoyed it. "She was much too fond of Heathcliff. The greatest punishment we could invent for her was to keep her separate from him: yet she got chided more than any of us on his account." (Brontë 49).
Another example agreeing with this situation is found in Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Tess has often been described as a delicate and dainty woman. She was in the countryside with the rest of the women, dancing due to the Festival of the Springtime when she first met Angel. All women dressed in white, dedicating her dance to the goddess of the Cereal, "Ideal and real clashed slightly as the sun lit up their figures against the green hedges and creeper-laced house-fronts; for, though the whole troop wore white garments, no two whites were alike among them. Some approached pure blanching; some had a bluish pallor..." (Hardy 9); representing life, virginity and purity with the white dresses, and all of them waiting for Angel to choose who was going to be his partner in the dance.
Subsequent, she met Alec, and although she did not want to be with him, she was also controlled by him. He convinced her that he was a member of her family by keeping the secret of her surname. He had only adopted it, but she did not know anything about it; thus, he kept her near him. Moreover, he had enough money and economic incomes to support and provide what her family needed. He offered support for her family many times, from the beginning of the novel until the end, "If I cannot legitimise our former relations at least I can assist you. (â€¦) Now, Tess, by all that's tender and strong between man and woman, trust me! I have enough and more than enough to put you out of anxiety, both for yourself and your parents and sisters. I can make them all comfortable if you will only show confidence in me." (Hardy 294). Alec has the tendency of reducing Tess to her mouth, symbol of her beauty; he cannot look to anything else but her mouth. Having related the aforesaid, it must also be said that there is a difference among them: Tess is much more strong and aware of her ideals than Cathy.
Both characters, Tess and Cathy, are loved by two men, so, this situation provides them some control. They have influence on them when they have to decide about something; and the way they react may change if their beloved is involved.
Tess is loved by Alec and Angel. Alec is not able to control himself when is in Tess' presence. In the last chapters he becomes a preacher and sees Tess again. In this moment, he becomes obsessed with her and stops being a preacher to follow Tess and try to make her his. She is his object, he constantly treats her as his property; arguing that once she was raped by him, she belongs to him. "And you cannot be. But remember one thing!- (...) and he stepped across to her side and held by the shoulders, so that she shook under his grasp.- Remember, my lady, I was your master once! I will be your master again. If you are a man's wife you are mine!" (Hardy 291). He keeps trying to make her his for many times. But Tess is married with Angel now. She is still trying to get his forgiveness and, being aware of her situation and although it would be ideal for her family to have Alec´s support and money, Tess always gives him a refusal. She is very precise in her actions and knows that she belongs to another man, Angel, and although he abandoned her, she still have the expectation that he will come back.
There is only one man who Tess really loves, she would die for him, and do whatever is possible to keep him next to her. She chooses love over male, family and society. The love she feels for Angel is one of the most important things she has now. She wants to be with him, she adores him, at such a high level that she would kill herself to not dirt his name. Tess is the owner of her fate, thus, she does not care about being in the most precarious situation, even for a women, a married women, if the result is to be with Angel Clare. "'What were you thinking of doing?' he inquired. 'Of putting an end to myself'. (â€¦) 'It was with the cord of my box. But I could not, do the last thing! I was afraid that it might cause a scandal to your name.'" (Hardy 209). The influence that Tess has over Angel makes him pay attention and have eyes only for Tess. He does not look to any other woman, although it would be easier for him to find another one. When they are in the farm, there are more women who love him, Marian, Izz, and Retty, but he ignores them because he would not make them happy due to his devotion for Tess. And she appreciates this, she was the reason of this conduct, "he was, in truth, more spiritual than animal; he had himself well in hand, and was singularly free from grossness. Though not cold-natured he was rather bright than hot- less Byronic than Shelleyan; could love desperately, but with a love more specially inclined to the imaginative and ethereal; it was a fastidious emotion which could jealously guard the loved one against his very self." (Hardy 169). He was a spiritual man, as she mentions Shelleyan, not as corporeal and sexual than other men.
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The same situation can be observed in Wuthering Heights, with the character of Catherine, and the role she plays in the novel. She is also loved by two men: Heathcliff and Edgar Linton. She could make them do whatever she wanted, even when she was dead. She manipulated Heathcliff by telling him that he is not good and civilized ecnough to get married to her: "That will do to explain my secret, as well as the other. I've no more business to marry Edgar Linton than I have to be in heaven; and if the wicked man in there had not brought Heathcliff so low, I shouldn't have thought of it. It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him..." (Brontë 80). The result of her words about Heathcliff is that he starts to be jealous, and wants to be a gentleman. But her decision will bring consequences also to her, she does not know yet but "yet Catherine betrays Heathcliff and marries Edgar Linton, kidding herself that she can keep them both, and then discovering that in denying Heathcliff she has chosen death". (Vogler 33). He went far away just to be the perfect man for Catherine. Heathcliff had heard her saying that getting married to him was abasing her. Once he had come back, and found that Catherine and Edgar Linton were married, he had the intention of renting Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. He thought that if he bought them, Catherine would come back with him, and might be together, because he loved her so much. Moreover, his dependency to Catherine is such tremendous that he ordered and paid the gravedigger so that he broke one of the parts from her coffin: "but he said it would change if the air blew on it, and so I struck one side of the coffin loose, and covered it up: not Linton's side, damn him! I wish he'd been soldered in lead. And I bribed the sexton to pull it away when I'm laid there, and slide mine out too; I'll have it made so: and then, by the time Linton gets to us, he'll not know which is which!" (Brontë 241).
The influence of Catherine over Edgar Linton was not as big as over Heathcliff, but it had also consequences. When Heathcliff found the marriage of Cathy and Edgar, he thought that if he would marry Isabella, Edgar's sister, it would bring Cathy with him again, "Heathcliff at this point has just perpetrated the first of his callous and ghastly acts of revenge, his marriage to Isabella." (Vogler 35). Isabella falls in love with Heathcliff and this will take them to marriage soon after. Catherine was a little disappointed and annoyed; but when Heathcliff saw what the engagement had caused in Catherine, he said to her: "I'm not your husband: you needn't be jealous of me!" (Brontë 105). But it actually affected Edgar when he noticed the relation between Catherine and Heathcliff; thus, he prohibited Catherine to see each other. Edgar could not control what was happening around. He had no control over Catherine to make all her feelings disappear; and, as a consequence, he was instigated by her to fight versus Heathcliff. Mr. Linton was ridiculed in some occasions: "'Cathy, this lamb of yours threatens like a bull!'- Heathcliff said. - 'It is in danger of splitting its skull against my knuckles. By God! Mr. Linton, I'm mortally sorry that you are not worth knocking down!" (Brontë 107). And as he knew he was weaker that Heathcliff, he went to look for more men to fight. At this point the masculinity of Edgar Linton is even more effeminate than before. The masculinity of Edgar is not the same than Heathcliff.
Edgar is an effeminate gentleman, totally opposite to Heathcliff, rude and strong. He has no chance on fighting Heathcliff, and that is why he goes to find more people to help him. Catherine takes the same position as Heathcliff and ridiculed Edgar: "'Fair means!'- she said, in answer to her husband's look of angry surprise.- 'If you have not courage to attack him, make an apology, or allow yourself to be beaten. It will correct you of feigning more valour than you possess. (...) Edgar, I was defending you and yours; and I wish Heathcliff may flog you sick, for daring to think an evil thought of me!'". (Brontë 107-108).
Edgar and Heathcliff are portrayed in totally opposite ways. Masculinity have already be seen in the rude, strong and vindictive Heathcliff, but Edgar Linton's personality is much more interesting. He is shown as a lover and as a loser, passionate and attractive, but also vulnerable and coward, "a soft-featured face, exceedingly resembling the young lady at the Heights, but more pensive and amiable in the expression. It formed a sweet picture. The long light hair curled slightly on the temples; the eyes were large and serious; the figure almost too graceful." (Brontë 68). Here it is shown the difference between him and Heathcliff, it is described his beauty, and opposing him to the dark and primitiveness of Heathcliff. In the same way, "He had a sweet, low manner of speaking, and pronounced his words as you do: that's less gruff than we talk here, and softer." (Brontë 71). In this quotation it is shown how gentle he is and his manners when he talks, compared to Heathcliff´s vulgarity and impoliteness.
The opposition in the masculinity that Alec and Angel show is another aspect that must be mentioned. Alec pretends to be a D'Urberville and uses this to seduce Tess and rape her. Otherwise, Angel is portrayed as a gentleman and Tess´ true love. He forgives her past due to the love he feels for her.
Apart from those characters, there is another figure that also plays an important role regarding the masculinity and femininity. Isabella, Heathcliff's wife, is also subjugated by men; her brother, and after, by Heathcliff. She is forced to go and live with her husband, where she spends the most horrible months of her life; but, successively, she is able to escape. Isabella becomes the owner of her fate and starts leading her own life.
Through those two novels and the different behaviours of the characters it is shown the transition from the total control of men over women, before the coming of the manipulation of women, and the influence they had over the male figures. Those stories established the new period where everything was changing, and gave the motivation to other women to continue developing this example. The hegemony of masculinity and femininity has been progressing gradually, and although it has been a laborious and arduous course, they have achieved what they wanted. Both female characters were in the same love situation, but their responses were different and it gave them diverse consequences. But, regarding the masculinity and feminism, the one and the other helped to change the ideas of the social class in the Victorian era.
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