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Considering Charlotte Bront's 'Jane Eyre' and Jane Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice', To What Extent was the 'Domestic Ideal' an essential quality of middle class women in 19th Century Britain

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Considering Charlotte Bront�'s 'Jane Eyre' and Jane Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice', To What Extent was the 'Domestic Ideal' an essential quality of middle class women in 19th Century Britain The transformation of Britain in to an Industrial nation had profound consequences for the way in which women were to be idealised. New kinds of work and a new kind of urban living prompted a change in the ways in which appropriate male and female roles were perceived. The manufacturers and professional men worked long hours in the pursuit of the capital which would enable them to live pleasantly as gentlemen of leisure, and at the end of the day were thankful to return home, or as Ruskin put it "to the shelter"1, maintained by women to ensure their husbands returned home to a pleasant environment. The notion of separate spheres - woman in the private sphere of the home or hearth; man in the public sphere of business, politics and sociability - came to influence the choices and experiences of middle class women. The Victorian era, is characterised as the domestic age, epitomised by Queen Victoria who came to represent a kind of femininity which centered on the family, motherhood and respectability. Accompanied by her husband, Albert, and her many children in the "sumptuous but homely surroundings"2 of Balmoral Castle, Victoria became an icon of late 19th century femininity and domesticity, as a model of marital stability and domestic virtue. Her marriage represented the ideal of marital harmony; she was described as "the mother of the nation"3 and she came to embody the idea of the home as a cozy, domestic space. When Albert died, in 1861, she retreated to her home and family in preference to public engagements. It is difficult to ascertain what contributed to the domestic ideal or who was the ideal Victorian woman, but the example of Mrs. Frances Goodby of Leicester, of whom it was said that she carried out her duties as mistress "with piety, patience, frugality ...read more.


The growth of Institutionalised charity allowed women to expand their horizons beyond the drawing room, "it gave them the opportunity to function beyond the home and learn skills which they were denied through formal education"20. However, voluntary visiting of the destitute by leisured women was not simply an act to pass free time but seen as an extension of women's domestic work"21. The phrase 'women's mission to women' was used in the middle of the 19th century to describe the role of respectable women in the reclamation of the fallen. Women were seen as much more morally guided than men. "Gentle, patient and self sacrificing, it was believed that women were pre-eminently suited to work amongst the fallen and philanthropy was thus constituted as an extension of women's role into the public sphere"22. Still, however, there was a limit on how far philanthropy could extend help to continue to be respectable. Often women worked on an "organised capacity on behalf of the church or chapel to which they belonged"23 getting poor children to attend Sunday schools, organizing mothers' meetings or sewing and thrift clubs. There was much opposition to women attending the poor within their own homes based on the belief that it would result in 'a neglect of the home' 24and that female purity could only be guaranteed in the confines of as 'outside the home is knowledge and knowledge undermines innocence.'25 In contrast however, one of the most popular advice novels of the mid nineteenth century, Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management states 'visiting the houses of the poor is the only practical way really to understand the actual state of each family in large cities...large advantages may result from visits paid to the poor,' suggesting the lines that were considered respectable were blurred. It is possible that the acceptability of philanthropy changed over time which would explain why there is no mention of charitable work in Pride and Prejudice but in Jane Eyre she is sent to the Lowood Charity School which is run by women and becomes a governess at the school herself. ...read more.


It is also clear that the separation of the sexes did mean that the female domain was the home, whilst the male domain was the public. Women's only acceptable occupation was that of charitable work, which was seen as the proper activity of the lady, "Charity is the calling of a lady; the care of the poor is her profession"40 being philanthropic was both a reflection of virtue and relief from a life bounded by the home. However, even philanthropy became a subject of opposition; some believing women's morals were affected by being outside the home. It is also apparent that domesticity was not necessarily something which came naturally to women, or there would be no need for advice books to aid women. What was also important, in regards to respectability, was the feminine demure character, clear in both Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre, it was important to have certain characteristics. This is also apparent in other novels, such as Hannah Moore's 'Coelebs' where the ideal wife is described as needing to be "elegant, or I should not love her; sensible, or I should not respect her; prudent, or I should not confide in her; well-informed, or she could not educate my children; well-bred, or she could not entertain my friends; consistent, or I should offend the shade of my mother; pious, or I should not be happy with her".41 Women were advised not to leave the house too much, as it was only there that they could achieve moral excellence. It is therefore clear, that literature was essential in implementing and maintaining the image of women as domesticated and to instill what was considered a respectable female character, but it is also important to consider that this advice was not necessarily always followed, and represented the ideal woman, whereas the middle class women in society may well have been very different. ...read more.

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