|Author/Editor:||Vicinus, Martha (Editor)
|Publisher:||Indiana University Press
|Condition:||USED - Very good in very good dust jacket. An unmarked copy with tight binding and minor shelf wear.
This collection of ten lively essays documents the feminine stereotypes that women fought against a hundred years ago and only partially erased. In an introductory essay Martha Vicinus sketches a portrait of the Victorian "perfect lady," showing that the ideal was a combination of sexual innocence, conspicuous consumption, and worship of the family hearth. That this model in some form was the ideal of all classes is made apparent by Jill Conway's study of the biological euphemisms of Victorian social scientists and Peter N. Stearns' essay on working-class attitudes toward women.
The perfect lady's only function was marriage and procreation. As Kate Millett shows, Ruskin's vision of girls as flowers to be plucked was the normal and Mill's marriage between two intellectual equals was the aberration. Many a flower was plucked who knew nothing about sex except the Victorian superstitions surrounding menstruation, examined here by English Showalter and Elaine Showalter. Having trained women for only one role, the Victorians regarded the middle-aged spinster as an object of humor, as is shown in Jane W. Stedman's study of W.S. Gilbert's comic treatments of unmarried women.
In the Victorians' view, a woman who broke the family circle threatened society's very fabric, and the most unforgivable sin was that of a married woman who committed adultery. In an interesting essay on the portrayal of women by Victorian painters, Helene E. Roberts shows how these attitudes are revealed in nineteenth century domestic portraits. Equally interesting is Peter T. Cominos' examination of the way Victorian women sought sexual sublimation through religious fervor. M. Jeanne Peterson, in "The Victorian Governess," studies the predicament of the woman forced to teach for pay, while E.M. Sigsworth and T.J. Wyke examine the debasing alternative--prostitution.
Late in the nineteenth century the Victorian "perfect lady" became the "new woman," who sought education, and fought for legal and political rights. Once begun, emancipation could not be halted, but the struggle for women's rights is not yet over. In relating the distance women have traveled, this stimulating book is a reminder of the miles yet to go.