The Victorian Woman vs. She
The Victorian era brought forth new ideas of thinking, through literature and art, people were exploring to places they had never before seen, and the industrial revolution caused the idea of social reform (Lombardi). The more controversial of these social reforms was the idea of women and power. Times were changing and women started to realize that some of the opportunities that were only intended for men, could just as well be the same opportunities for them (Marsh). Queen Victoria, the icon of the Victorian Age, had different opinions about women striving to be equal to men. “’The Queen is most anxious to enlist every one who can speak or write to join in checking this mad, wicked folly of “Woman’s Rights”, with all its attendant horrors, on which her poor feeble sex is bent, forgetting every sense of womanly feeling and propriety… It is a subject which makes the Queen so furious that she cannot contain herself. God created men and women different – then let them remain each in their own position (Queen Victoria, letter)”. During this era, women were not only not equal to men, they were though of as the insubordinate sex. They had no power, and males decided on every decision in the private sphere and public sphere. However, in 1887, an author by the name of H. Rider Haggard published a book that highlighted the idea of the ultimate powerful woman. Haggard’s She, goes against every idea of what woman were supposed to be during the Victorian era.
The first instance of the traditional Victorian woman being juxtaposed by Haggard’s idea of women is the fact that the tribe in She has a woman who made all decisions, including life and death. In England, women were to stay put in the private sphere to cook, clean and ultimately be the “weaker gender (Marsh)”. Although England did in fact have a female queen at the time, according to the official British Monarchy, she had little power and could only influence the parliaments decisions. On the other hand, the queen in She, Ayesha, was to be obeyed at her every command and to fail to do that, meant death instantly. “Only She was obeyed throughout the length and breadth of the land, and to question her command was certain death (Haggard 96)”.
Another difference between the woman in the Victorian Age and the women in She, is that the woman in the Amahaggar tribe are looked upon as most important sex. Women in England during the Victorian age were though of as intellectually and physically beneath men due to the fact that men provided and protected the family and in the end, constituted that they be the dominant gender and expected to obey the men (Marsh). Haggard’s idea of woman in She, proved to be a bit different from women in England. The women in She were looked at as the dominant gender because in the end, women provide life. “In this country, the women do what they please. We worship them, and give them their way, because without them the world could not go on; they are the source of life (Haggard 118).”
One more example of Haggard challenging the traditional idea of Victorian women is the fact that Ayesha’s other name is “She –who-must-be-obeyed” and all who gaze upon her face are immediately aware of her beauty and are powerless. “I could bear it no longer, I am but a man, and she was more than a woman…then and there I fell upon my knees before her and told her…that I worshipped her as never woman was worshipped and that I would give my immortal soul to worship her…(Haggard 193).” As stated before, woman in England would never be treated as such because they were considered the inferior gender (Marsh). In an era where woman were forced to live their lives in the private sphere and pushed aside as the “weaker race” (Marsh), one man went against tradition and depicted a race of women that embodied everything man was in the Victorian age. Haggard’s She, goes against every idea that was being formulated at that time, but it gave woman a new perspective on their roles in society.
Marsh, Jan. “Gender Ideology & Separate Spheres in the 19th Century.” Victoria andAlbert Museum, Online Museum, Web Team, Webmaster@vam.ac.uk. Victoria and Albert Museum, n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2013.
Haggard, Henry R. She. New York: Penguin Classics, 2001. 96, 118, 193. Print
Lombardi, Esther. “Victorian Period – A Time of Change.” About.com Classic Literature.
N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Dec. 2013