During the 1800s there were many different attitudes concerning the roles and positions of the individuals within society. These included the attitudes towards witchcraft and superstition, the legal system, and most importantly the views and outlooks on the roles that women played in the community. There are many short stories written by an array of authors, which highlight these effects particularly. Such stories include many of Thomas Hardy’s works including the novel “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”, “The Withered Arm” and The “Melancholy Hussar”.
Even authors in other countries than England wrote stories which picked up on the attitudes towards women, one being Charlotte Perkins Gilman coming from America, who wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper”, which caused a stir in the American society. Amazingly, although these stories were written far apart from each other they appear to consider much the same views towards how the society behaved towards women of the time. Thomas Hardy was born in Dorset, on June 2nd 1840 and was well educated, getting taught in a number of schools, public and private.
From 1862 to 1867 he worked as an architect but also wrote poetry. His poetry was not well appreciated and in 1874 he started writing novels and short stories. These were well valued by the people of England and soon Thomas Hardy could support himself only on his writing. One of his most famous sets of short stories were called The Wessex Tales, set in a real part of England but under imaginary names, such as Casterbridge and Holmstoke.
He actually wrote these stories in the 1860s and 1870s, but set them in the time period of the 1800s. In these stories he would incorporate many different subjects such as the superstition beliefs of the times, the reality of coincidence and fate, the influences and attitudes particularly in a small community and the most obvious the inequalities between men and women in society. Two of Hardy’s stories, which show the inequalities between men and women very well, are “The Withered Arm” and “The Melancholy Hussar”.
They both have a lot of similarities in the stories concerning the different issues, and even many of the differences lead to the same issues cropping up later in the story, such as the differences in status of the main characters, leading to similar events happening in both “The Withered Arm” and “The Melancholy Hussar”. “The Withered Arm” deals with many issues spanning from superstitious beliefs such as witches and ghosts, to the reality of coincidence and fate.
The issue that stands out the most though, is the attitudes within and around the community towards women as a whole, focusing both on the working class and the higher and more educated class. The main women characters, Gertrude Lodge a well-educated and quite innocent lady and Rhoda Brook the ageing ex-mistress of the Farmer, both during the stories take their turn to be victimized by the community and by the general attitudes which go with being a women during the 1800s.
Early in the story it is very easy to establish that women are being treated differently. Rhoda Brook and her son have been cut off from the rest of the community, this is obvious as Rhoda is totally ignored when the other milkers are gossiping about the Farmer Lodge and also as the boy inquires to his father’s marital status “Is father married yet? ” The reason that Farmer Lodge isolated Rhoda was because the society’s views could not allow them to get married as Farmer Lodge’s status is much higher than Rhoda’s, who is just another milkmaid.
He has even had a child with Rhoda but as the society does not allow for a mixed status relationship the child has had to be also isolated with his mother, “I think he lives with his mother a mile or two off. ” During the start of the story Rhoda seems to be the victim. Farmer Lodge cannot, and will not jeopardize his high position in the community to marry a woman of lower stature. This shows that when marrying someone, it was not always to do with love.
Shown more clearly in “The Melancholy Hussar” the system that was adopted of that time pertaining to marriage was that the man would first make “her father’s acquaintance in order to make hers” to marry and then when marrying would marry to raise his status. To marry a woman of low background was not heard of. Farmer Lodge then instead marries to young and “tisty tosty little body enough” woman, whom has a high role in the social order “Yes: and more. A lady complete”, this being Gertrude Lodge. By doing this Farmer Lodge has now made sure he has not lost any respect from his workers and subjects of the village.
Farmer Lodge treats Gertrude as another one of his wealthy possessions. When she is looked upon he thinks that it is only because of who she is with, being Farmer Lodge, that she is the subject of attention: “He knows who we are, no doubt? ” “Oh yes. You must expect to be stared at just at first, my pretty Gertrude. ” Farmer Lodge is totally happy with ignoring Rhoda, the woman who bore him a child, and in embracing this young and innocent child to be his wife. Towards the end though the victim switches. Through some strange events Gertrude Lodge is now flung into being the woman victim.
She is no longer looked upon by Farmer Lodge as a wife that he loves because she now has an ailment, which is demoting her beauty. It makes him “dislike… no, love me less”. This ailment upon her arm accounts for her downfall and she knows that “men think so much of personal appearance” so she must hide it from Farmer Lodge as much as possible. She cannot talk to Lodge about it as it makes him look worse off, to only be able to acquire a wife who has an ailment upon her arm. All in all Farmer Lodge looks at women in a very selfish perspective.
In his opinion they are only there to make the prosperous men look more wealthy and well off, and after they have been married to they are entirely the men’s property, doing only what the man says to do. The society of that day and age also help to make the women seem worthless. The society looks upon the women as accessories to the men and an unequal status marriage is not allowed. This may excuse Farmer Lodge to a certain extent as he was only treating women how the community felt they should be treated and if he went against that he may seem weak and therefore have a lower status.
Another of Thomas Hardy’s stories which show many of the same views is “The Melancholy Hussar”. Set in a small isolated village on the side of an army camp the story portrays the roles and views towards women in a very similar light to the “The Withered Arm”. The main characters in this short story include Phyllis, a secluded and “so shy that if she met a stranger… she felt ashamed at his gaze” woman who is completely governed by her father Dr Grove. Dr Grove, the father of Phyllis, “a professional man” who has “a taste for lonely meditation”, Mr.
Humphrey Gould, a bachelor who has family in high positions but himself is “poor as a crow” without people knowing, and finally Matthi?? us Tina, a York Hussar who possesses “chronic homesickness”. During the beginning of the story the reader learns a lot about the situation that Phyllis was in concerning her father and her freedom. This is not picked up on as well in “The Withered Arm” and so provides a good contrast between the two stories. It is very clear from the start of the story that Phyllis has been completely isolated from the surrounding community by her father.
Dr Grove is fully immersed in his work and because of this also immerses Phyllis: “If her social condition was twilight, his was darkness. Yet he enjoyed his darkness, while her twilight depressed her. ” Phyllis is treated completely as a possession of the father. This may have been to do with the death/leaving of his wife and now needing someone else to govern over, being Phyllis, but it is more likely that the society of that time had brought women up to be looked after completely.
Woman of that time were supposed to be feeble and vulnerable people, ad the story “The Yellow Wallpaper” shows this quite well. Another issue that is brought up more clearly in “The Melancholy Hussar” which is not elaborated on in as much detail in “The Withered Arm” nor “The Yellow Wallpaper” is the way the marriages were brought about. From “The Withered Arm” it is clear to see that marriages of unequal statuses were looked at as “a violation of the laws of nature”, especially if the woman is of a lower status than the man.
In “The Melancholy Hussar” Gould wants to propose to Phyllis, and so must first make “her father’s acquaintance in order to make hers. ” The father would then see if the man, namely Humphrey Gould, was of high enough stature and if so would let them marry. The woman would not be invited to a say, but in most cases would marry without trouble as that was the way the women were brought up in that time. Towards the end of the story Phyllis has met Matthi?? us Tina and has fallen in love with him.
He is one of the York Hussars and so is of a lower status than Humphrey Gould. Gould has been working in Bath for a long time now and has only sent occasional letters to Phyllis. Phyllis wants to go with Matthi?? us back to Germany but is now in a hard position where she has to choose to go with her true love, or to wait for Gould who she has been engaged with. From the following actions of Gould it is very clear of how he thinks towards women. Phyllis chooses to stay and await Gould’s return to marry him.
Gould though has fallen in love with another women in Bath, and wants to terminate the engagement to Phyllis. Gould never wrote to her to tell her what had happened and so has acted very selfishly. He never thought that Phyllis might have also wanted to abandon the marriage, so she was the person that in the end lost everything. This attitude towards women, of a total possession of the man is shown well throughout this story. It is hard to fully blame any man as, like in “The Withered Arm” the community’s rules are very important if you want to keep a high value in society.
The story of “The Yellow Wallpaper” written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is an American short story, which portrays many of the same outlooks on women as its English counterparts. Charlotte Perkins Gilman was an American, feminist story and non-fiction writer. In her time she wrote nearly 200 short stories and, like Thomas Hardy, spanned both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and focused on many ideas, which were ahead of her time. She was also very interested in the Rest Cure, devised by Dr Silas Weir Mitchell.
The rest cure was firstly devised to help shell-shocked soldiers of the American Civil War, but Weir Mitchell adapted it to ‘cure’ the mental diseases of women. The rest cure consisted of many parts including overfeeding, dependence, inactivity, isolation and rest. All five of these parts are clearly seen in “The Yellow Wallpaper”. During the course of “The Yellow wallpaper” the issue that stands out the most is how the man rules completely over the women, treating them entirely like one of their possessions.
The Yellow Wallpaper” is written as a diary of a woman who is a possession of the man, and because of this it is easier to see how the woman is actually thinking and responding to the mans requests. Perkins Gilman is showing, through the story, that Weir Mitchell’s rest cure is nonsense and is also telling all women to think for themselves more. The story is very like “The Melancholy Hussar” in how it portrays how women were treated but at the end of this story the women becomes triumphant. During the story the husband of the author is trying to cure her of a mental depression.
He takes up the famous rest cure, and sends his wife to solitary confinement in “the nursery at the top of the house”, but on closer examination this room looks more like a cell with bars across the windows, a large nailed down bed, scratched floorboards and a shredded wallpaper which covers the walls. Although the author persists to her husband to “let us go downstairs” as she does not like the room, he will not let her as he always believes that he knows best and that a woman cannot tell her what he should do, especially when she has a mental illness.
By the end of the story because of the mans total disregard of the woman’s views the woman escapes the chains of the man, but at the same time, because of continuously being forced to stay in the room has also turned mad with her condition. Overall the attitudes and values of the women of the 1800s were much the same for the higher class, and the lower class. Even across the Atlantic Ocean the view seem to be similar in many ways. It is hard to blame individuals to the tragic events happening to the women at the end of each story, as they were in all cases influenced greatly by the society of that day and age.