Title

Two Novels about Two Young Women

Subject Area

Gender Studies

Abstract

Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849), the most renowned woman author of her time, in her old age wrote Helen (1834). A generation later, Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865) in her old age wrote Wives and Daughters (1864-1866). It was serialized in a magazine and never finished, for the author died before writing the last installment. Wives and Daughters (which in1999 was adapted into a highly acclaimed BBC Masterpiece Theatre four-part series) might be called a Victorian adaptation of Helen. Both novels deal with two young women (friends in Helen and stepsisters in Wives and Daughters), one of them gentle, timid, and honest, and the other lively and self-assured, but occasionally disingenuous. In both novels the plot hinges on incriminating letters which must be retrieved at all costs to save the reputation of the second young woman. The second novel, however, lowers the social status of the young women and places them in a provincial town. Whereas Edgeworth writes about a narrow circle of wealthy aristocrats, Gaskell gives a much more comprehensive picture of life in the Victorian Age, with its broadening of horizons and scientific discoveries.

Still, both authors focus on the contrast between the two young women and the way they struggle to find self-fulfillment and happiness. Predictably, it is not easy in society in which women are expected to be subordinate to their fathers and husbands. Edgeworth and Gaskell were not „feminist“ authors, but they exposed the difficulties of women living in a world ruled by men with honesty and ability.

Brief Bio Note

Helena Jeny has the Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the M.A. in Classics from the Johns Hopkins University. At present she teaches Latin in Kellam High School in Virginia Beach.

Keywords

gender studies, English literature, English novel, Victorian Age

Location

Room 218/220

Presentation Year

2018

Start Date

4-5-2018 3:45 PM

Embargo

11-26-2017

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Apr 5th, 3:45 PM

Two Novels about Two Young Women

Room 218/220

Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849), the most renowned woman author of her time, in her old age wrote Helen (1834). A generation later, Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865) in her old age wrote Wives and Daughters (1864-1866). It was serialized in a magazine and never finished, for the author died before writing the last installment. Wives and Daughters (which in1999 was adapted into a highly acclaimed BBC Masterpiece Theatre four-part series) might be called a Victorian adaptation of Helen. Both novels deal with two young women (friends in Helen and stepsisters in Wives and Daughters), one of them gentle, timid, and honest, and the other lively and self-assured, but occasionally disingenuous. In both novels the plot hinges on incriminating letters which must be retrieved at all costs to save the reputation of the second young woman. The second novel, however, lowers the social status of the young women and places them in a provincial town. Whereas Edgeworth writes about a narrow circle of wealthy aristocrats, Gaskell gives a much more comprehensive picture of life in the Victorian Age, with its broadening of horizons and scientific discoveries.

Still, both authors focus on the contrast between the two young women and the way they struggle to find self-fulfillment and happiness. Predictably, it is not easy in society in which women are expected to be subordinate to their fathers and husbands. Edgeworth and Gaskell were not „feminist“ authors, but they exposed the difficulties of women living in a world ruled by men with honesty and ability.