The origin of feminism in literature

Sunday, December 25, 2011

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The Origin of Feminism


Differences between the genders are not a recent topic. The Romantic, Victorian, and Modern (0th Century) Periods, each had a different perspective and view when it came to writing about women. During the Romantic period, Mary Wollstonecraft sparked the idea of women rights in “A Vindication of the Rights of Women”. During the Victorian period, men believed that women should stay at home and take care of the household; they should be angels and guide their husbands on the right path. In the poems, Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess” and Christina Rossetti’s “In an Artist’s Studio” go against this stereotype and show readers how women were being treated. For the Modern Period, Virginia Woolf tries to look at women’s oppression from a different side and is written in “A Room of One’s Own”.


The Romantic period is really not about women’s rights, but the beginnings of it. Mary Wollstonecraft is the writer who really introduced the idea of writing like the man. In the passage of “A Vindication of the Rights of Women”, she writes of how women were viewed by men, “that the civilized women of the present century, with a few exceptions are only anxious to inspire love, when they ought to cherish a nobler ambition, and by their abilities and virtues exact respect.” (pg. 167). Wollstonecraft wanted women to realize how they were being treated. She also wanted women to be more educated, quote, “I wish to persuade women to endeavor to acquire strength, both of mind and body.” (pg. 168). Throughout the reading, she points out how women are treated like objects rather than a human.


The beginning of the passage compares the women to a flower and that is how men see women as. A flower brings beauty and pleasure, but that is all that it is good for. Furthermore, she digs into education and sees the disadvantages that women have. Wollstonecraft notes, “men, in their, youth, are prepared for professions, and marriage is not considered as the grand feature in their lives; whilst women, on the contrary, have no other scheme to sharpen their faculties.” (pg. 185). Therefore women can not enjoy the same things as men do because the women have never had an education. So in truth, women are not inferior to men, it is just that they were never given a chance. All the books men read show women in characters of love and improvements. Wollstonecraft writes “Novels, music, poetry, and gallantry all tend to make women the creature of sensation, and their character is thus formed in the mold of folly during the time they are acquiring accomplishments, the only improvement they are excited by their station in society, to acquire” (pg. 186). However Wollstonecraft never gives a suggestion of any revolt. She just states her opinion on how women are being treated. That is why the Romantic period was only the beginning of the movement.


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During the Victorian period, women were viewed as the boss when it was related to only a domestic area. They did not learn any skills or go to school. They are in homes to keep their husbands on the right track. The poems “My Last Duchess” and “In an Artist’s Studio” both give great examples on showing how women were trapped in their own homes. Robert Browning wrote “My Last Duchess”, which talks about a Duke who is about to get married and is showing the messenger a picture of his old wife. As he describes the painting, he tells the story of what kind of person his wife was. He mentions that she was very friendly. “She looked on, and her looks went everywhere” (line 4). “Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule/She rode with round the terrace � all and each/” (line 8-). The Duke continues on to say how she was not thankful for being his wife “My gift of a nine � hundred � years � old name” (line ). Furthermore, he tells the messenger that he had ordered her death. He is now happy because she could only smile at him now. “But to myself they turned since none puts by/The curtain I have drawn for you, but I/” (lines -10). Therefore, now, he can control her by keeping her trapped within a picture frame. The last duchess died because she was yearning to go beyond just a frame.


“In An Artist’s Studio” by Christina Rossetti gives a similar image as “The Last Duchess” did. In Rossetti’s piece, there are many pictures of the same woman; but in different positions. “One face looks out from all his canvases,/One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans;/” (lines 1-). Through all the pictures, the artist is only in love with the image he draws, his perception of who she is. “He feeds upon her face by day and night” (line ), “Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;/Not as she is, but as she fills his dream/”. He does not care about the girl, but only wants to capture that one image that he has on her. This is a typical stereotype they had about women. She could not do anything other than be trapped within a studio and “look” like an angel. These two poems capture this idea by using “frames” to confine the two women and force them into a position where they are pleased to see them. They also showed these portraits as if they were only things or prizes, but never as a human being. The movement of women’s rights was little known of in the Victorian period, because they still did not have a backbone in society.


In the Modern Twentieth Century, there was a strong wave of feminism. In the passage “A Room of One’s Own” by Virginia Woolf, gave a similar taste as Wollstonecraft did except Woolf focused on literature and writing. Woolf stated that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction; and that, as you will see, leaves the great problem of the true nature of woman and the true nature of fiction unsolved.” (pg. 154). She continues on writing of how the men’s college is different from a women’s college. While going to a luncheon at a men’s college, she writes, “But the outside of these magnificent buildings is often as beautiful as the inside” (page 156). She also writes that a lot of rich people donate money to the schools, “Still more money was poured in from the coffins of kings and queens” (pg. 157). Also the food that was served was very rich and was not like a regular lunch. Woolf was so inspired by the environment that she could only think of beautiful poems by Tennyson and Rossetti.


When she went to attend a women’s college luncheon, everything was different. The only meal that was served was soup and beef. They did not have the rich and fancy meal as the men’s college provided. She then realized that it was so dull that it was impossible to write a beautiful poem. The environment was just not inspirational enough. Therefore when she went to Oxbridge to research her topic on women, she had a very hard time. However, a male student that was sitting next to her was happy and working fast. He was educated and knew where to find his answers. As Woolf sees this, she writes, “Unfortunately, one has had no training in a university, the question far from being shepherded to its pen flies like a frightened flock hither and thither, helter-skelter, pursued by a whole pack of hounds”. (pg. 167).


For Woolf, education is the key to improve women in writing and to break away from the stereotype that men have placed on them. She also writes that women are different from men.


It would be a thousand pities if women wrote like men, or lived like men, or looked like men, for if two sexes are quite inadequate, considering the vastness and variety of the world, how should we manage with one only? Ought not education to bring out and fortify the differences rather than the similarities.


Woolf wants women to know that they are different only because of the difference they could bring in such as new ideas and favor it through writing. The reason why women writers are not respected is because they do not have a style of writing as men do because they are not allowed to write. Woolf wants women to start writing and making a root in literature.


All three periods of women rights have moved and progressed step by step, and age by age. Wollstonecraft started with making people realize the need to change but Woolf brought more energy to women in comparing the men’s world, and women’s world. All three periods have something in common, it tells women to realize that they need to break through the frames that men have built around them.





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