In Victorian literature, the conflict between social orreligious freedom and restriction appears to be prevalent if it is discussedwith the light of sex.
More clearly, the question of enjoying the freedom andbeing restricted with religious and social norms depended on sex. In the truestsense of the term, Victorian women’s freedom was, in fact, sometimes limited toreligious prohibition and sometimes to social norms.They had to live with therestriction on work, movement, education, freedom of speech and even taking thedecision in their weddings.
Truly, Victorian women had no freedom to take theeducation that will enable them to be free in thoughts and actions. As thepatriarchal Victorian society is oblivious to proper female education, thefemale part failed to add them to the stream of societal development. Itdoesn’t mean that they were deprived of education completely. They aretechnically compelled to receive a new form of education so as to they can play a role like “Angel in the house.” Thesediscriminative attitudes or restrictions for women have been portrayed in theVictorian poem “Angel in the House” written by Coventry Patmore. As the poemstates : “Man must be pleased;but him to please Is woman’s pleasure; down the gulfOf his condoled necessities She casts her best, she flings herself.
How often flings for nought, and yokes Her heart to an icicle or whim,Whose each impatient word provokes Another, not from her, but him;While she, too gentle even to force His penitence by kind replies,Waits by, expecting his remorse, With pardon in her pitying eyes;And if he once, by shame oppress’d, A comfortable word confers,She leans and weeps against his breast, And seems to think the sin was hers; 20 In truth, this queer myth snatched women’s freedom and theyare captivated by the restrictions imposed by the society and it was prevalentin Victorian poetry and novels. For example, Laura Fairlie in the novel “The Women in White” (1860), Lady IsabelCarlyle in East Lynne (1861), Tess in the “Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891)by Wilkie Collins, Ellen Wood, and Thomas Hardy respectively are likethe angels in the house. Again,Victorian women had to learn how to be the attraction of their husband throughtheir beauty and of course domestic abilities. A Victorian egoistic character Caroline Bingleyin the novel Pride & Prejudice(1813) make a list of skills of a girl for which she will be acknowledged inthe Victorian society as the perfect wife. Says she: “A woman must have a thoroughknowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages….
; andbesides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner ofwalking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions”…(ch. 8) So it’s an admitted fact that typical Bingley wants thatwomen must act as to what their husbands like. They should not enjoy thefreedom of receiving education in the fields they want. Because these sorts of education orknowledge’s, according to many Victorian people, downgrade a lady’s dignity ofbecoming an “angel in the house”.
Moreover, “Some doctors reported that too much study actually had adamaging effect on the ovaries, turning attractive young women into dried-upprunes. Later in the century, when Oxford and Cambridge opened their doors towomen, many families refused to let their clever daughters attend for fear thatthey would make themselves unmarriageable”. 21Likewise, Victorian women were considered to be somewhatunfit to the public spheres included business, politics, law etc. Women’s”proper sphere” is, in fact, the domestic life that includes someworks- religious education, rearing children, housekeeping, cleaning, and whatnot- they have to do (22). This becomes the queer myth “separatespheres”.
Which is why, this strong myth existed in the Victorian erabecame a villain in the way of enjoying women’s freedom and it also captivatedVictorian women with the thread of different sorts of restrictions. All mostall Victorian novelists place men and women characters in different socialspaces while domestic spaces are for the heroines always with few exceptions.Even though in the Victorian novel Great Expectations Estella and Mrs. Joe areexceptions in this term, Miss Havishamand Pip’s mother Georgiana are captivated. Being defrauded by Compeyson, MissHavisham captivates herself in the Satis House for the whole of her lifewearing wedding dresses and adopting Estella as the tool of taking revenge. Inthe truest sense of the term, if Miss Havisham got the freedom of filing a caseagainst the fraud Compeyson, she would not captivate herself in the house anddetermine to take revenge against a deceptive man. So it’s avowed that thepatriarchal Victorian society captivateswomen with its culture of impunity.In a like manner, pips mother Georgiana suffers from lack offreedom.
She has been treated as a slave by her husband. As pip narrates hermiserable condition:”Isee so much in my poor mother, of a woman drudging and slaving and breaking herhonest heart and never getting no peace in her mortal days, that I’m dead afeerdof going wrong in the way of not doing what’s right by a woman,”. ( Chapter- 7 p.06 ) In respect of havingsex or sexuality Victorian women were different from their husbands even thoughthey lived under the same roof. It is an acknowledged fact that men couldmaintain lengthy affairs with other women but the wife has to be with herhusband only because she had no freedom to decide divorce as an option.
(23)that the Angel Clare in the Victorian Thomas Hardy’s novel”Tess of the d’Urbervilles” had had an extramarital relationship withan old woman is forgiven by Tess easily but when Tess confesses her pasthappenings that she was compelled to have sex with Alec d’Urbervilles and givebirth to a son named Sorrow, Angel Clare unscrupulously turns down her as hiswife and leave her for Brazil on the one hand and Alec d’Urvervilles is not, atleast, alleged for his outrageous deed on the other hand. In the light of abovediscussion, it can be said assuredly that in the conflict of freedom andrestriction, the restriction triumphs over freedom in every issue in Victoriansociety. ConclusionInthis paper we have taken into account the ideological conflicts existed inVictorian society through a comparative study of Victorian social norms andVictorian novels and poetry.
We have discussed the conflict between faith anddoubt in view of scientific advancement and the theory of Evolution, moralvalues and materialistic attitudes in consideration of social norms and freedomand restriction in the light of sex.