Essay Example on Victorian Gender Ethics: Ruskin vs. Wilde

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  4
Wordcount:  920 Words
Date:  2023-05-08

According to Ruskin's description of Victorian women and men, it is evident that he is emphasizing the aspect of gender ethics where females are seen as being weak and submissive.

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On the other hand, men are shown as being strong and independent. Oscar Wilde, in his novel, "The Importance of Being Earnest," topples the gender conventions of traditional Victorian society. Women at that time had insignificant influence in the public sphere; their husbands commonly dictated their lives. Wilde's characters defy these conventions and resist the idea of gender as binary oppositions by depicting both masculine and feminine traits. The females' flexibility in operating between numerous gender roles points to the oddness of fixed gender characteristics and how they are simply a performance.

When Jacks first meets Gwendolen in the play, we see him taking a role that is effeminate and submissive in their relationship. He stammers affection words to Gwendolen like a lovesick schoolboy, and repeats words "ever since I met you... I have ever met since I met you," which shows his incapacity to think correctly and articulate cohesively before her (10). Additionally, he puts her on a platform over other ladies he met, which is demonstrated by his utilization of the word "admire" instead of "love" or "adore." By fumbling his words and thoughts, he is characterized as the inverse of a beguiling, noteworthy, well-spoken man. Additionally, a sense of insecurity is brought out when Jack tells Gwendolen, "You realize that I love you, and you persuaded, Miss Fairfax, that you were not unconcerned with me" (11).

Despite Gwendolen shouting, she "[p]assionately" adored him minutes prior, Jack shows faltering and abstains from declaring aloud that she cherishes him back. By him claiming that she perhaps feels something more than total apathy shows his self-question that Gwendolen, whom he significantly admires, could adore him as well. His adoration of her at this time suggests he is dreadful that he is perhaps anticipating his emotions onto her and that she will not love him. Jack lacks the confidence that he will court the woman he had always wanted successfully. Gwendolen is governing her relationship and dictating how Jack should propose to her challenges the conventions of dating and marriage and John Ruskin's ideas on gender roles, as explained in his "Of Queen's Gardens." She criticizes and lectures on how to propose to her appropriately, instead of observing the norms of being a modest, shy woman.

Even after accepting him, she claims he has "had minimal experience in how to propose" in contrast to "men [who] often propose for practice" (11). The act of making him propose in the manner she desires and criticism of him reflects her desire to manipulate him into a partner she finds suitable. She is "antithetical to the Victorian stereotypes of the proper lady and the angel of the house" by rebelling against traditional norms of marriage (Miller 14). Her telling him, "I am fully determined to accept you," contradicts the conventions of Victorian marriage, in which the woman has no say to whom she is engaged. The decision is meant to be made between her parents and her future husband.

Cecily also opposes traditions of marriage and courtship, by asserting dominance over Algernon and predetermining the narrative of their relationship. After Algy confesses his love for Cecily, she patronizes him: "I don't think that you should tell me that you love me wildly, passionately, devotedly, hopelessly. Hopelessly doesn't seem to make much sense, does it?" (32). Her response sends up Victorian conventions of women as embodiments of "meekness, lack of opinions, general helplessness, and weakness" (Petrie 184). She is vocal about her opinions and expectations, which he portrays when Cecily tells him, "You can go on. I am quite ready for more," he is "[Somewhat taken aback]" and nervously begins to clear his throat (31). She speaks confidently to him and dictates the flow of their conversation- Algernon is only able to continue speaking if she wishes for him to do so. Furthermore, she has taken the liberty to decide that they have already "been engaged for the last three months" (32). This statement, along with the intricately constructed past of their relationship, eliminates the male presence, because she enabled herself to speak in his absence. His proposal to her is irrelevant because she already decided their relationship based on her desires. This act mirrors the way men would predetermine the course of a relationship, and the woman would be inserted into his plan like a pawn.

Wilde's characters reveal the absurdity of gender conventions. Their rejection of existing solely within a female or male role illustrates how gender does not have to be thought of strict, unwavering categories that limit the character. Gwendolen and Cecily exhibit some characteristics of traditional Victorian women, but they simultaneously exist as the dominating figures of the text. On the other hand, Jack and Algernon are placed into weakened, feminized positions despite their more influential roles in society as men. Wilde effectively denies placing limitations of gender and emphasizes how they are constructs that have been naturalized in and by society.

Works Cited

Gillespie, Michael Patrick. The Picture of Dorian Gray: "What the World Thinks of Me." New York: Twayne Publishers, 1995.

Miller, Eldridge Jane, "The Crisis of 1895: Realism and the Feminization of Fiction." Rebel Women: Feminism, Modernism, and the Edwardian Novel, The University of Chicago Press, 2005.

Petrie, Charles. "Victorian Women Expected to Be Idle and Ignorant." Victorian England. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, Inc., 2000. 178-87.

Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest. Dover Publications, 1990.

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