What is the message of XIXth century-literature about unorthodox women? Actually most of them ended up in the cemetery.
Anna Karenina, despite being a married aristocrat, indulges in a love affair. She is deterred from divorce by the pressure of social convictions. The community despises her because of the illegitimate cohabitation, in contrast her lover is free to participate in society. Growing increasingly paranoid, she throws herself under a train and dies.
Madame Bovary, a doctor’s wife, finds her married life dull and motherhood a disappointment. Her lust for luxury results in an unsurmountable debt, which leads to her suicide.
Tess of the d’Urbervilles, after being raped gives birth to a child who soon dies. Later in her life, she and her spouse confess their past affairs. Although she forgives her spouse, the man can not. She finds shelter at her former abuser, which later impedes her reunion with her spouse once the man has accepted her past. She kills her actual partner in dispair, which results her execution.
These Russian, French and British classics, reflecting the culture of their age, have influenced vast audiences. In the depicted societies, women faced severe sexual double standards and they got viciously penalized for unconventional longings.
How could these heroines have avoided death?
First of all, Anna should have accepted that her duty was to live for others by setting aside her own wishes and interests. She defied the common knowledge suggesting that female character be in contrast to mannish self-will and government by self-control and that becoming wife at the altar emcompassed total and final submission to her husband.
Secondly, Madame Bovary was supposed to know that a woman’s mission was equal to a devoted wife and mother. Living in the XIXth century, she should have been aware of this dictum as higher education and professional work were closed to her. Besides ladies were usually supposed to conceal their mental capabilities.
Finally, Tess of the d’Urbervilles became victim to the public disdain because of losing virginity before marriage. Despite the abuse, she fell into the category of „fallen women” who threatened the respectable society by rejecting the value of purity. Ladies could seek marriage to become mothers instead of seeking sexual or emotional satisfaction.
I am wondering what our contemporary works will message to posterity.
Source: John Mill The subjection of women