Unconventional Victorian women.

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Unconventional Victorian women.

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1Booksloth
Sep 4, 2011, 9:02pm

I'm thinking ahead to the dissertation I'll be writing next year and I need an unconventional female character from a Victorian novel. I want it to be someone who would have been considered 'outside' polite society because of her unconventional attitudes to life/sex/relationships/the woman's role etc. Perhaps the most obvious would be Becky Sharp from Vanity Fair, though I'm also very strongly drawn to Jude the Obscure's Sue Bridehead. Do other LTers have a favourite? And what is it about her that qualifies her for the role? (Cross posted in 18th-19th Century Britain group.)

2Rosa_Saks
Sep 5, 2011, 3:09am

I have a favourite in Helen Graham/Huntingdon in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë.
The novel is about an unhappy marriage, one that Helen entered into when she was very young, naïve, and to a certian extent unfamiliar with the ways of the world. Throughout the book, she evolves in an extraordinary way, learns from her mistakes, and ultimately makes a life-altering and (at the time) unconventional decition about her life and marriage. Loved it!

3Booksloth
Sep 5, 2011, 7:15am

I'd forgotten about Helen, thanks for the reminder. Others that have crossed my mind are Bathsheba Everdene (Far From the Madding Crowd), Tess Durbeyfield (Tess of the D'Urbervilles), Marian Halcombe (The Woman in White) and Edna Pontelier (The Awakening)

4Rosa_Saks
Edited: Sep 5, 2011, 8:21am

I'm loving this thread already! So many great tips. I even have Tess of the D'Urbervilles in my collection, I just haven't gotten around to reading it yet.

5Rosa_Saks
Sep 5, 2011, 8:22am

Oh, and I really love Mirah in Daniel Deronda by George Eliot. And Gwendolen too.

6LauraBrook
Sep 5, 2011, 5:44pm

Sue Bridehead in Jude the Obscure is the one that sticks out in my memory the most. While I wasn't reading it through that particular lens, she seemed so out of her time in my head that her whole life story, especially her unorthodox relationship with Jude, seems like it has a tissue-paper connection to the very grim realities of the lives around her.

7PensiveCat
Sep 5, 2011, 7:13pm

Marie Melmotte and Mrs. Hurtle in The Way We Live Now...do Americans count?

8Booksloth
Sep 6, 2011, 3:28am

"do Americans count?"
Haha! As far as general interest in this thread goes, of course they do. Sadly, for the purposes of my dissertation, I'm going to need to stick with British authors and characters.

9SassyLassy
Sep 8, 2011, 11:17am

I just joined this group today and I love this topic.

How about Lydia Gwilt, from Armadale by Wilkie Collins? The Penguin cover describes her as a "bigamist, husband-poisoner and laudanum addict" and goes on to say that the contemporary review when the book was published described her as "One of the most hardened female villains whose devices and desires have ever blackened fiction". Unconventional indeed!

Most of Wilkie Collins' women would fit the bill. Another nasty one is Margaret Sherwin from Basil. Basil himself is a total dolt though.

10LauraBrook
Sep 8, 2011, 11:25am

Ah! Totally forgot about Lydia Gwilt - good call, SassyLassy!

11PensiveCat
Sep 8, 2011, 11:26am

Irene Adler in A Scandal in Bohemia - unconventional enough be regarding as 'The Woman' by Sherlock Holmes.

12Booksloth
Sep 8, 2011, 11:55am

I think you're right about Wilkie Collins's women SassyLassy. Armadale has been sitting on my shelf for far too long - I definitely plan to get round to reading it before I do the dissertation so I'll be looking out for Lydia Gwilt who I've just been reading about in The Invention of Murder. It's quite a while since I read A Scandal in Bohemia so maybe I need to dig that one out again too.

13Leseratte2
Sep 9, 2011, 1:20am

Catherine Vernon in Margaret Oliphant's Hester is the head of a provincial bank. And of course there are M. E. Braddon's heroines, Lady Audley and Aurora Floyd, committing bigamy and attempting murder. For more Wilkie Collins, there's Marian Halcombe in The Woman in White, Magdalen Vanstone in No Name, and Mercy in The New Magdalene. The protagonist of A Mummer's Wife is an alcoholic actress. In Adam Bede Dinah is a lay preacher and Hetty commits infanticide. Rhoda Barfoot in The Odd Women is a committed feminist who's not made to look like a crackpot or fool...I could probably think of more but it's way past my bedtime...

14Booksloth
Sep 9, 2011, 8:08am

Some great suggestions coming in! Just to narrow the field a bit - I'm especially looking for someone who will compare with a couple of Victorian protagonists who are actually in 20th century books - Sarah Woodruff from The French Leiutenant's Woman and Sugar from The Crimson Petal and the White - both women who follow their instincts rather than convention, who aren't afraid to battle against convention, who use their sexuality not to fit in with the social world they are surrounded by but to make an independent life for themselves to live by their own rules and who, once the 'real world' fails them, choose to make their own way in a man's world. So many of these fit the bill I'm going to be spoilt for choice but that's fine.

15Leseratte2
Edited: Sep 9, 2011, 3:58pm

In that case No Name might be worth checking out. It doesn't tick all the boxes, but if memory serves, it ticks most of them. Ditto Lady Audley's Secret.

16Booksloth
Sep 10, 2011, 6:03am

#15 You are right - both of those would fit the bill. I don't want to have to reread every 19th C book I own so will get a shortlist together first but those two are near the top of the pile (and both good reads too, which helps).

17ElizabethPotter
Edited: Sep 12, 2011, 8:53pm

Tess came to mind immediately, but that topic may have been done into the ground already. (Of course I don't know what your thesis actually is.) I will snoop through my library and see what I can find.

After glancing through my Library:

Little Dorrit Fannie Dorrit or Miss Wade depending on what you want to discuss
Villette Lucy Snowe

18Booksloth
Sep 13, 2011, 7:29am

#17 And now you've also reminded me of Shirley. Thanks.

At this stage I don't know what it's going to be about either! The course has been about intertextuality and the links between books and their rewrites or influences on other later novels (eg Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea, and I'm very interested in both Victorian novels and modern historical novels that are set in Victorian times. I did use The Crimson Petal as one of my comparisons with Jane Eyre so don't want to use JE again but I can definitely see a lot of links with The French Lieutenant's Woman too - I need an 'original' (ie, 19th C novel) to go with them though, before I start picking out what particular points I want to compare. Hope that helps or at least makes sense.

19et
Sep 13, 2011, 3:04pm

I just finished Lady Audley's Secret (loved it) and I "enjoyed" this "passive, insipid 19th-century heroine" who was intimately involved in murder, arson, blackmail, insanity, abandonment, secret identities, lying....

20Booksloth
Edited: Sep 14, 2011, 7:31am

#19 It really is a good book, isn't it? It was one of those I put off reading for quite a while becasue something 'better' always came along and when I finally got round to it a couple of years ago I was amazed at how enjoyable it was.

21SassyLassy
Sep 29, 2011, 4:51pm

Esther Waters by George Moore is a somewhat unconventional Victorian female in that she has a child but does not lose her way completely, maintaining her status (albeit low) in the end. She could make a good comparison with Tess and the authors were contemporaries.

I've been away for a couple of weeks. Now that I'm back I'll have to check out Lady Audley based on comments above. I too have put off reading it, but no more!

22SassyLassy
Nov 15, 2011, 6:05pm

Hello Booksloth
Have you decided on your characters yet? It feels like we have all been reading or rereading these great books along with you. It would be great to have a discussion on your chosen books!

23Booksloth
Nov 16, 2011, 5:52am

Not yet. I still have until next May to make my final decision and I'm working like crazy at the moment on my last assignment for this year but the ideas are still churning away. I don't even know for sure if I'll be going with this idea at all and there's always the possibility that I could change my mind completely but the people here have given me some great food for thought - plus quite a few rereads to get through before I make a choice. When I get a bit more settled I'll do my very best to remember to come back here and let everyone know what I picked. And thank you all for your suggestions!

24edwinbcn
May 4, 2012, 12:56pm

Violet Paget (1856–1935), who wrote under the pseudonym Vernon Lee, was an unusual Victorian woman, who led an unusual life. She was born to English parents in France, and lived the greatest part of her life in Italy, where she was a resident of Florence for more than forty years.

She was a lesbian, and had long-term passionate friendships with two women, Mary Robinson and Kit Anstruther-Thomson. She was an early feminist, and among others active in the Union of Democratic Control, a political pressure group striving for women suffrage, and opposing militarisation, conscription and war-time censorship.

As an authority on the Italian Renaissance, along with Walter Pater and John Addington Symonds, she published a number of works on art and aesthetics, such as Euphorion: Being Studies of the Antique and the Mediaeval in the Renaissance and Renaissance Fancies And Studies Being A Sequel To Euphorion.

Vernon Lee is remembered as one of the greatest exponents Victorian ghost stories and supernatural fiction, published in collections such as Hauntings (1890) and The Virgin of the Seven Daggers. Excursions into fantasy (2008).