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Passionate or Passionless: Construction of the Feminine in the 19th Century Novel- Fictional Representations of the Victorian Heroine

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That to classify the Victorian heroine into such narrow categories is inherently dogmatic and ignores the importance of the representation of the Victorian heroine to the construction of feminine identity. Accordingly, this paper argues that the patriarchal Victorian society created social norms to prescribe what constituted appropriate attributes of being “feminine” such as morality, chastity and domesticity. In contrast, the Victorian literary presentation of women utilised the sensational and anti-sensational format to subvert the traditional fairytale in order to highlight the concept of individual female identity distinct from the patriarchal ideal.

It is further submitted in this paper that in doing so, nineteenth century literature was radical in presenting females as individuals. Moreover, whilst the sensational and anti-sensational categorisation has lent it self to the distinction of the passionless versus the passionate heroine, such as Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Jane Eyre; this paper argues that the construction of feminine identity in Victorian literature presented a complex woman battling domesticity and the confines of social rules with paradoxical internal desires beyond the limitations of the passionate or passionless paradigm. Therefore as an additional proposition, this paper critically evaluates the presentation of the feminine in nineteenth century literature and submits that the archetypal Victorian heroine personifies the interrelationship between feminist psychosexual theory; emphasising the concept of the feminine self and the socio-political backdrop of the Victorian patriarchy.

In further supporting this proposition, this paper shall analyse the use of the exploratory nineteenth century fairytale, which digressed from popular realism, to present a novel view of reality, which was particularly important in redefining the construction of femininity. The industrial revolution and the first quarter of the nineteenth century saw Britain at the heart of a seismic societal shift whereby a “mass of humanity poured from the countryside into towns and cities”. 1 From a social perspective, the industrialisation impact on the family framework resulted in the domesticity paradigm as part of the Victorian ideal prescribed to women; namely: “authority over the household, leisure time, courtship procedures, and kinship relations, and under her jurisdiction the most basic qualities of human identity were supposed to

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preview essay on Passionate or Passionless: Construction of the Feminine in the 19th Century Novel- Fictional Representations of the Victorian Heroine
  • Pages: 60 (15000 words)
  • Document Type: Dissertation
  • Subject: Unsorted
  • Level: Masters
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