“The greatest social difficulty today”The greatest social difficulty in England today is the relationship between men and women. The principal difference between ourselves and our ancestors is that they took society as they found it while we are self-conscious and perplexed. The institution of marriage might almost seem just now to be upon trial. --Justin M’Carthy, Westimster Review (July 1864)
“A feeble instrument” Sarah Ellis, Women of England 1839I still cling fondly to the hope, that, ere long, some system of female instruction will be discovered by which the young women of England may be sent home from school prepared for the stations appointed them by Providence to fill in after life, and prepared to fill them well.
“I am but a feeble instrument”Then indeed may this favoured country boast of her privileges, when her young women return to their homes and their parents, habituated to be on the watch for every opportunity of doing good to others; making it the first and the last inquiry of every day,"What can I do to make my parents, my brothers, or my sisters, more happy? I am but a feeble instrument in the hands of Providence, to work out any of his benevolent designs; but as he will give me strength, I hope to pursue the plan to which I have been accustomed, of seeking my own happiness only in the happiness of others."
“The Angel in the House” No likend excellence can reach Her, thee most excellent of all, The best half of creations best, Its heart to feel, its eye to see, The crown and complex of the rest, Its aim and its epitome. For shes so simply, subtly sweet, My deepest rapture does her wrong. Yet is it now my chosen task To sing her worth as Maid and Wife; Nor happier post than this I ask,Mrs. Beeton’s Book of To live her laureate all my life.Household Management, 1861
Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, 1861 “Strength, and honour are her clothing” —Proverbs, xxxi. 25. AS WITH THE COMMANDER OF AN ARMY, or the leader of any enterprise, so is it with the mistress of a house. Her spirit will be seen through the whole establishment; and just in proportion as she performs her duties intelligently and thoroughly, so will her domestics follow in her path.“Woman’s Power”?
Ruskin, Of Queen’s GardensNow their separate characters are briefly these: The man’s power is active, progressive, defensive. He is eminently the doer, the creator, the discoverer, the defender. His intellect is for speculation and invention; his energy for adventure, for war, and for conquest, wherever was is just, wherever conquest necessary. But the woman’s power is for rule, not for battle,—and her intellect is not for invention or creation, but for sweet ordering, arrangement, and decision.
Ruskin, Of Queens’ GardensShe sees the qualities of things, their claims, and their places. Her great function is Praise: she enters into no contest, but infallibly judges the crown of contest. By her office, and place, she is protected from all danger and temptation. The man, in his rough work in open world, must encounter all peril and trial: to him, therefore, must be the failure, the offense, the inevitable error … But he guards the woman from all this; within his house, as ruled by her, need enter no danger, no temptation, no cause of error or offense. This is the true nature of home —it is the place of Peace; the shelter, not only from all injury, but from all terror, doubt, and division.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning“The works of women are symbolical”
Aurora Leigh (1857) The feminist Prelude“My chief intention is the writing of a sort of novel-poem running into the midst of our conventions and rushing into drawing-rooms ‘where angels fear to tread’ and speaking the truth as I conceive it plainly”Virginia Woolf: Barrett Browning "was inspired by a flash of true genius when she rushed into the drawing-room and said that here, where we live and work is the true place for the poet.”
Jane Eyre dreams of “action”Anybody may blame me who likes when I add further that now and then, when I took a walk by myself in the grounds, when I went down to the gates and looked through them along the road, or when, while Adele played with her nurse, and Mrs. Fairfax made jellies in the store-room, I climbed the three staircases, raised the trap-door of the attic, and having reached the leads, looked out afar over sequestered field and hill, and along dim sky-line — that then I longed for a power of vision which might overpass that limit; which might reach the busy world, towns, regions full of life I had heard of but never seen: that then I desired more of practical experience than I possessed; more of intercourse with my kind, of acquaintance with variety of character, than was here within my reach. I valued what was good in Mrs. Fairfax, and what was good in Adele; but I believed in the existence of other and more vivid kinds of goodness, and what I believed in I wished to behold.
Jane Eyre dreams of “action”Who blames me? Many, no doubt; and I shall be called discontented. I could not help it: the restlessness was in my nature; it agitated me to pain sometimes. Then my sole relief was to walk along the corridor of the third story, backwards and forwards, safe in the silence and solitude of the spot and allow my minds eye to dwell on whatever bright visions rose before it — and, certainly, they were many and glowing; to let my heart be heaved by the exultant movement, which, while it swelled it in trouble, expanded it with life; and, best of all, to open my ear to a tale that was never ended — a tale my imagination created, and narrated continuously; quickened with all of incident, life, fire, and feeling, that I desired and had not in my actual existence.
It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot. Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth. Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.
Writing the New WomanHarriet Martineau: When I was young, it was not thought proper for young ladies to study very conspicuously; and especially with pen in hand. Young ladies (at least in provincial towns) were expected to sit down in the parlour to sew, — during which reading aloud was permitted, — or to practice their music.
Writing the New WomanDinah Mulock: But “what am I to do with my life?” as once asked me one girl out of the numbers who begin to feel aware that, whether marrying or not, each possesses an individual life, to spend, to use, or to lose. And herein lies the momentous question.
Writing the New WomanFlorence Nightingale: Is man’s time more valuable than woman’s? or is the difference between man and woman this, that woman has confessedly nothing to do?
Writing the New WomanFlorence Nightingale: Women are never supposed to have any occupation of sufficient importance not to be interrupted, except “suckling their fools”; and women themselves have accepted this, have written books to support it, and have trained themselves so as to consider whatever they do as not of such value to the world or to others, but that they can throw it up at the first “claim of social life”. They have accustomed themselves to consider intellectual occupation as a merely selfish amusement, which is their “duty” to give up for every trifler more selfish than themselves.