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Fiction and Instruction a Women's Experience Before,Research Proposal

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¶ … Fiction and Instruction

A Women's Experience Before, During, and After the Victorian Era

Does the prose style displayed by women writers have any unintended or intended benefits as it related to educating readers, especially women? Was Victorian women's fiction intended to be educational at all? If so, in what ways? How have pre-Victorian and post-Victorian female writers influence and been influenced by the works of Victorian era women writers? What are some examples than can be found in text? What theories and topics mix in with the educational perspective?

Before and after the Victorian era has sparked revival of literature by and for women. Whether they describe romantic encounters or are laced with bits of virtue, Victorian themed literature often came with some form of message or described the daily lives of the women who lived during and before that time. Not only were women writers taking the stage and showing the world the talent and perspective of a woman, but also how women during this era reacted to fulfilling traditional roles of wife, daughter, and mother. Among these writers, a string of works could be considered by critics and audiences as educational as they frequently spoke of how one should act within society as a Victorian woman, and what could be learned from their experiences. Whether or not the prose style of these women writers was intentionally mean to take on educational standpoint depends on what the meanings behind these stories offered in terms of lessons learned and the overall experience.

Fifteen female writers, most of which were writers from or before the Victorian era, have in some way or another, shown that even through works of fiction and nonfiction, a message or lesson could find its way to a reader and thus an audience, enabling a deeper understanding of Victorian women and how society viewed them. Some of these works, most notable from Virginia Woolfe, became classics, and have spawned numerous books from present day writers that attempt to interpret and apply from a theoretical standpoint, the words of these famous and well-known women writers. The works represent at times, snippets of real world situations from the time they were written. Particularly with the nonfiction works, they highlight opinions and views of Victorian women at the time and what societal expectations they dealt with. This can serve not only as a historical reference point, but also a way to educate women and men of the struggle of Victorian women in an oppressive society that limited their role in the home and outside the home.

Scholarly Context

Fiction Examples

Several notable women writers from English literature like Jane Austen, wrote works that depicted scenes of wealthy and gentry and life within pre-Victorian society. From Northanger Abbey Austen provides the reader with a simple, but often overlooked "lesson" that readers can pick up as informative or educational because the work represented everyday life. A form of miniature "life lesson." "From Pope, she learnt to censure those who 'bear about the mockery of woe.' From Gray, that 'Many a flower is born to blush unseen, 'and waste is fragrance on the desert air.' From Thompson, that-.. 'To teach the young idea how to shoot'." (Austen 9) Austen's work inspired the Victorian writers through expression of routine and desire and often provided what was often lacking in literature of the time, exploration of the feminine condition. Writers like Bronte is a good example, which will be discussed later on.

Often wisdom is passed down from interactions and communication. When applying this perspective, it seems as though many works of the time by female writers show, unintentionally at times, how things were and how one should be, thus providing an educational context for which readers can derive information and wisdom from. It is through this cycle and written interpretation that writers like Austen can show and thus educate others on how life was for people like her and those who lived in her era.

Even in her colorful language, her use of simile and description can show all too well how women felt and dealt with situations and circumstances. "And that a young woman in love always looks- 'like Patience on a monument 'Smiling at Grief.'" (Austen 9) Women are more than willing to sacrifice their lives and their freedoms for those they love. Austen teaches the reader of these kinds of sacrifices while also providing complexity of interpretation of perspective, adding to the concept of expression through writing

Bronte is another classic women writer that showed a "day in the life" of women of her time. In Agnes Grey, a brief scene shows how women were educated in the Victorian era with focus on etiquette and acquirement of refined tastes. "Her mother was partly aware of her deficiencies, and gave me many a lecture as to how I should try to form her tastes, and endeavor to rouse and cherish her dormant vanity." (Bronte?, Hughes-Hallett and Bronte? 69) Women were and still are to some extent, brought up to be polite, quiet, and pretty. This was so they could/can find husbands and marry to avoid becoming what has been quintessentially termed, "a spinster," essentially losing a chance at a decent life and family. The prose style of Bronte indicates her work is meant to show something through experience rather than simply explaining.

Bronte continues with how Victorian women learned to be "ladies" and explains how one would prepare a woman to learn. "I should prepare and smooth the path of learning till she could glide along it without the least exertion to herself: which I could not, for nothing can be taught to any purpose without some little exertion on the part of the learner." (Bronte?, Hughes-Hallett and Bronte? 69) Often when people educate others, there has to be some desire to learn. Women were educated during this era, at home (the ones who could afford it). When they were instructed, they were usually instructed by private tutors. These tutors were paid by the family and at times lived with them, making education for women hard to come by and costly.

In Jane Eyre, Bronte includes another brief snippet into the informal education techniques as well as the way would-be students or informal students/formal students, practiced what they learned and then applied it to being a Victorian woman. "Fortunately I had had the advantage of being taught French by a French lady…learned a portion of French by heart daily, apply myself to take pains with my accent…I had acquired a certain degree of readiness and correctness in the language." (Bronte? et al. 104) Victorian women in a sense represented civility and restraint. With tight corsets and long dresses, they were made to remain controlled and polished. As Bronte shows in the scene, French and European traditions, were often taught to female students in order to present a polished and pristine Victorian woman image. This scene represents to the reader how women may have learned and in what manner they learned.

In Mary Barton, Gaskell, much like Bronte, examines the feminine condition, but in a manner in which shows the pain of existence rather than a day in the life. "Days of oppressive weariness and languor, whose realities have the feeble sickliness of dream; nights, whose dreams are fierce realities of agony; sinking health, tottering frames, incipient madness, and worse, the consciousness of incipient madness; this is the price of their whistle." (Gaskell 232) Here a reader witnesses the insanity of existence within a controlled and strict society and the trouble some may have had adhering to such restriction. Women were always dependent on men in Victorian society and were taught to behave in such a way that would keep them obedient and submissive. It wasn't until the 20th century that women could vote and ever later to sexually express themselves. It is here in these oppressive moments that the plight of women translated and does translate into literary work and thus further examination of women of the era.

Gaskell's prose style although filled with many semi-colons, especially in the chosen snippet, acts as a way of showing the exhaustive and often brutal reality of life. Well to do women were shown frequently in Victorian literature, but poorer women were not and it was important to highlight what lower class women went through in this era as they struggled more, receiving less opportunities for an education and personal development. Poor women in Victorian society also struggled with poor health as food was not made readily available to them nor was a stable home or home life.

Not all lessons expressed by these women writers were about education and manners. In East Lynne, Wood shows how important it is to be thrifty, unintentionally providing a life lesson to the reader. "Willful waste makes woeful want. I taught that to you as a child. To be thrifty is a virtue; to squander is a sin. Say at once an empty pocket is better… [END OF PREVIEW]

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