Victorian ideals of the ‘ proper’ woman were founded on four core principles – those of piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity. The hierarchy of these four core values was delineated by Barbara Welter in the 1960s in their order of social importance. “ Young men looking for a mate were cautioned to search first for piety". Because religion didn’ t take women away from her proper place within the home as so many other societies or movements did, piety was considered a safe avenue for a woman to pursue. “ She would be another, better Eve, working in cooperation with the Redeemer, bringing the world back from its revolt and sin.
The world would be reclaimed for God through her suffering” (Welter, 1966: 152). Next, to piety, purity was necessary in order to access the power inherent in the cult. “ Without [purity] she was, in fact, no woman at all, but a member of some lower order … To contemplate the loss of purity brought tears; to be guilty of such a crime … brought madness or death” (Welter, 1966: 154). However, this power was expected to be relinquished upon the wedding night as the woman traded in her purity, setting up a paradox that proved difficult to explain away.
“ Woman must preserve her virtue until marriage and marriage was necessary for her happiness. Yet, marriage was, literally, an end to innocence. She was told not to question this dilemma, but simply to accept it” (Welter, 1966: 158). Therefore, submission became a defining aspect of the feminine, also placing her squarely by her own fireside first as daughter and sister, later as wife and mother, bringing in the fourth dimension of domesticity.
“ If she chose to listen to other voices than those of her proper mentors, sought other rooms than those of her home, she lost both her happiness and her power” (Welter, 1966: 173). All of these concepts come into play as Eliot illustrates the problem in reconciling the ideals of womanhood with the realities of their nature.
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