Mis(s)representation : female communities in mid-nineteenth century novels.
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Anthony, Meagan, 1985-
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In the beginning of the 19th century in England, we can observe the emergence of more women into the public sphere: as workers, social activists, and artists. However, in novels written during the period, the majority of authors do not represent the scope of women in the public sphere as it was in reality. Along with this increased access to the public sphere, communities and societies created to support women, run by women, increased in number and scope. These communities ranged from training nursing and other employable skills to societies of like-minded women who supported each other’s endeavors – including but not limited to writers’ groups. These groups are not represented in proportion to their presence in contemporary British society. While even publicly active women were rare in Victorian novels, groups of women – more than two – who were publicly active in societies of women are almost invisible. The chapter on Shirley examines the positive effects of the female community on its members and the negative response from male society when the female community oversteps the boundaries of acceptability. In chapter two, on Cranford, I analyze the female community’s ability to flourish outside the boundaries of patriarchal class structures, only to be dismantled by the return of male authority. My focus in Deerbrook relates to the problematic communication between the novel’s female characters, which blocks the development of a female community. In each novel we see the interference of the patriarchy come between the women, whether that interference is the physical presence of men or the presence of patriarchal systems of control: classes, church, propriety, etc. Through my analysis of each novel as representative of other texts written during this period, I find the novels to be a sanctuary of tradition in the midst of a more progressive reality through their representation of male dominance. Rather than a medium for change, the universality of patriarchal dominance ensures that the novels embrace the more traditional expectations of women with their ending choices and advance these expectations by reinscribing patriarchal social dominance over female communities.