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How does Hardy represent women in the ‘Withered Arm’ and in four other Wessex tales

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Victorian theorists have constructed a stereotypical and simplified model of gender. Apart from the physical differences, men and women are seen through a series of opposites. Men were portrayed as strong, powerful and able to pursue their careers outside the home. However, women were seen to be controlled by men and to stay at home to bring up a family and look after the home. Men were regarded as being more intelligent than women; therefore this made them self-conscious and affected their emotional status.

Women were seen as being weak and innocent. However, if a woman seduced a man then she was held responsible and her reputation would be ruined. The man however, has his actions excused and they are never spoken of again. Although these values that they believed in permeated society – it naturalised women’s repression. Women were not allowed to vote, had no access to professions and had limited opportunities of education. Nowadays, society is fairer and people are judged by their personality rather than, for example, their race or gender.

Men are seen as equal to women and many men now look after the house and children whilst the woman works. However, the Victorian view of gender is evident in Hardy’s short stories. In the ‘Withered Arm’ there is a character called ‘Rhoda Brook’. The community sees her as being a ‘fallen woman’ and a ‘witch’. She has a child through an affair, and as she is not married, this is seen to be wrong. There is evidence that Rhoda is an isolated figure and leads a tough life. This is when women gossip about her on the farm.

One of the milk women says to the other, ”Tis hard for she’. This tells me that she is seen as odd to other people and some people give her sympathy. As she has had an illegitimate child the community views her badly. ‘She knew that she had been slyly called a witch since her fall. ‘ This is because she had a child and was not married and therefore they wanted her to go to hell. Even nowadays, if a woman has a child as a result of a one-night stand, she is seen as a slut whereas the man is seen as masculine. However, it was much worse in the Victorian times.

Local people viewed her strangely: ‘But in someway or other a story was whispered about the main-dairied lowland that winter that Mrs Lodge’s gradual loss of the use of her left arm was owing her being over-looked by Rhoda Brook. ‘ This means that people are thinking and gossiping that Rhoda Brook has supernatural powers and that she is a witch. This is why they view her strangely and is why she is an outcast. This conforms the Victorian theory of gender. Gertrude Lodge has some independence and freedom, but the narrative centres on a stereotypical preoccupation.

She seems to lead a fairly independent existence, one that takes her outside of the home and away from their husband. She says, ‘I walk a good deal’. This means that she goes out a lot and has a lot of freedom in and around the village and keeps herself to herself. She then goes to Rhoda Brook’s house and gives her son a new pair of shoes. This independence seems to challenge the convention of a Victorian woman as, stereotypically, they were supposed to stay at home and look after the house, but this story has a feminist feel to it anyway.

This is non-stereotypical and is a contrast to Rhoda’s character. Her travels to see Conjuror Tendle and then to Casterbridge and the arrangements she makes to touch the neck of a dead man, reinforce this picture of independence and self-reliance. However, much of this independence is motivated by a stereotypical preoccupation – physical beauty and the restoring of it. Indeed a lot of the story is about Gertrude’s looks. Somebody comments, ‘she’s very pretty very. In fact she’s lovely. ‘ Mr Lodge only married her because of her looks, not that they had any feelings for each other.

This is why their marriage is ruined as her arm withers away, and so she is not pretty anymore. Gertrude Lodge does not conform because of the independence and freedom but she does conform the stereotypical articulation of a woman and her beauty and trying to maintain it. Sophy Twycott is the controversial woman in the ‘Son’s Veto’. She is passive in courtship and her class accentuates her subordination giving her a childlike status. This means that she has no power or control. Also her son is male and her controls her.

Sophy gives the impression of being chaste with her dealings with Sam Hobson. He says, ‘Why, how can you be so fast? ‘ She is a lady and a very respectable person. She does not usually rush anything. This is proven, as she does not allow him to kiss her. She appears passive in their courtship by refusing and then giving in to a ride with Sam Hobson, showing that she likes him a lot and is starting to fall in love with him. Sophy’s class accentuates the power differences between her and her husband making her dependent and powerless, much like a child.

It tells us, ‘her husband had taken much trouble with her education; but she still held confused ideas on the use of ‘was’ and ‘were’. ‘ This suggests that they have a teacher-pupil relationship. ‘It also says, ‘Sophy had been treated like the child she was in nature’. This shows that she will always be seen as child as nobody would take her seriously. Also, her physical disability does not help. Sophy is very much like a child in this story as she is under her son’s rules and what he says goes. He tells her, ‘Has mother-not have’.

This suggests that he is ashamed of her and defines her childlike predicament. She also conforms the Victorian theory of gender. Tony Kytes is a comic story at the expense of women. It challenges the convention of male manipulation and girl’s behaviour in the role of marriage. There is Milly Richards, Unity Sallet and Hannah Jolliver. Although the story may be comical to some people, it is at the expense of women. This means that women were seen as fools and men were seen as the more intelligent sex. However, this story would not be acceptable in front of a modern audience.

Tony Kytes manipulates the female characters by lies. This reveals that women are meant to be trusted by men as they use women. Also is reveals that women are gullible. When Milly discovers that Unity is hiding, there is an argument. ‘ “Mind what you’re saying! ” replied Milly’. This portrays women as gullible and easily led towards lies, i. e. ‘stupid’. Hannah finally sees sense in the end as she walks away from Tony. Tony is shocked and says, ‘ “What, you won’t have me Hannah? ” ‘ She is upset because she realises she is not the only girl for him.

The story seems to suggest that if her father was not there at this particular time, she may have chosen him. This shows that she is gullible. Milly, despite what happened, still goes off with Tony. This gives an image of stupidity to all women, making women seem desperate. This is because not five minutes earlier, Tony had declared his love to two other women. Rather than simply interpreting the girl’s behaviour as foolish, it reveals that marriage was seen as very important to a Victorian woman living in a small rural area.

There was desperation as their lives were seen as incomplete without a husband and that it was a vital requirement. They thought that it was better to be with the wrong man than with no man at all. However, now people say that it is better to be single than be in a marriage or relationship with the wrong man. In Victorian times, women were seen as outcasts if they were not married, therefore, the way that Milly acted was an act of desperation and just wanted to be seen as normal by the community, not because she has any feelings for him. All of the female characters in this story conform.

Milly despite being messed about, still goes to Tony as she had to get married, as she needed a house and the money involved. Unity however, was the only one who had self-respect, as she said no to him. In the Melancholy Hussar, the female character is Phyllis Groves. She is treated badly by a man called Humphrey Gould. It says, ‘this neglect of her was awkward if not painful for Phyllis. ‘ This shows that she is badly treated because he goes off and leaves her just after he had proposed. When people asked her where he was and she did not know, she is seen as stupid by others.

This tells me that Hardy represents this woman through the Victorian view of gender. Despite the unfortunate twist in the story, whereby Humphrey reveals that he got married while away in Bath, Phyllis sacrifices a chance of happiness by turning down the opportunity to elope with Matthaus Tina. She does this because she had already promised her hand in marriage and she did not want to lose her self-respect by running off with another man. It seemed that society and fate were against her, making it impossible for her to do the right thing.

It was a fight between her head and her heart. Her head said that she should go off with Humphrey and do the right thing. She would only be marrying him for money, not love. If she had taken this decision, she would have been unhappy. However, her heart said that she should go off with Matthaus Tina. If she had taken this decision she would have been happy and possibly have stayed with him and have had a good life. However, love was not put before the right thing and she did not choose the right thing, which left her broken hearted.

This tells me that Hardy represents women in this story as selfish as she Phyllis goes for the decision to make her look good and not feel silly, rather than the right thing. Phyllis does conform in this story. In ‘The Distracted Preacher’, Lizzy Newbury is the controversial character. She is a modern woman, whose lifestyle is smuggling and loves it. This is a working position outside of the home, which was rare at this time. She has position of equality with men but the story has a different ending due to Hardy’s audience. Lizzy Newbury’s lifestyle challenges the conventions of the time.

As she is an illegal smuggler, she is unlike many women in this time period. She does not care about her image or what people think of her. It says, ‘ “You are a smuggler”, he continued sadly. ‘ She did not want to get married and was a powerful character in the community. She is also a stronger character than most men in the community as well. She is portrayed as different compared to the other stories. She does not come across a stereotypical character. Rather than being subordinate to Stockdale, she seems very much his equal.

She bursts out, ‘I have got this large house; why can’t you marry me and live with us? This shows that the woman is independent, as she owns her own house, as usually in Victorian times, the man would own the house and ask the woman to marry him. This shows she has power over men. She also says, ‘I don’t see why are not well matched’. This means that she sees men and women as equal from saying ‘matched’. This is different because in Victorian times, men would always look down on women. The ending to this story is not what Hardy would have preffered. He wanted Lizzy Newbury to marry Jim, who is also a smuggler, and emigrate.

This is realistic because, as a character, she loved smuggling a lot and would not have wanted to give up the excitement of it and Stockdale would not have given up his preaching. However, it is less conventional of this Victorian era because Lizzy is very independent compared to stereotypical woman of this time and marries within smugglers. Normal women of this time, in this position, would have realised that they are doing something wrong, given up and married the vicar. However, the publishers wanted a traditional ending. The ending of this story sees Stockdale returning after two years and marrying a worn down and shot Lizzy.

This takes away the unique character. This shows her losing her independence of a modern woman, which makes her special and instead she turns into a traditional Victorian woman. Hardy was under a lot of pressure to write a story that would please the general public and sell. As he had to change the endings of some of the stories for the publishers, it proves the value of Victorian society, where then, men controlled everything and everything worked around them. Because of this, the ending is traditional, which the reader would expect.

In this story, Lizzy does not conform as Hardy was told by publishers to create a happy ending but he liked a more adventurous ending for Lizzy. Many of the female characters conform; however Lizzy did not. In the four other stories, the women are victims of the men in one way or the other, whereas Lizzy is not a victim as she is in control of her actions. In this story Hardy challenges Victorian thinking and in the other stories slightly as well for that matter. In all five stories, women are represented differently, which the controversy that Hardy thought was Victorian society.

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