Servant girls who had been treated as property

This preview shows page 73 - 75 out of 255 pages.

servant girls who had been treated as property through the Renaissance now had a "virtue" to lose. For another, upper-middle-class women like Clarissa Harlowe (with plenty of money but without a guaranteed social position based on birth) were situated between the rock of patriarchal power accus- tomed to selling daughters to the highest bidder in the marriage market and the hard place of a growing individualistic ethos that sanctified marriage for love. As Raymond Williams points out, Richardson invests Clarissa's vir- ginity with a spiritual value as an emblem of "the integrity of the person and the soul" (64). Less fanatically, Fielding's Sophia Western puts forth the doctrine of the mutual veto (the child over the parent's choice, the parent over the child's) to mediate between the conflicting ideologies of patriarchal power and filial freedom. Ellis's thesis is also weakened by her determination to read Gothic fic- tion—such as The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian —as exempla in which a woman "takes the initiative in shaping her own history." Except for Cynthia Griffin Wolff, few readers from Radcliffe's day to this have ques- tioned the almost legendary passivity of the Gothic heroine. 13 Ellis's notion that Emily cleans the villains out of Udolpho would seem a peculiar inter- pretation. Ellis's fantasy is current enough today, of course, in thrillers— such as Wait until Dark —in which a solitary woman, threatened by rapist/ killers, manages to use her weakness and their overconfidence to defeat and destroy them. Major social changes lurk behind the difference between the contemporary fantasy that with courage and luck one can actively prevail over the violence bred by patriarchy, and the earlier passive fantasy—in Radcliffe's Udolpho —that one day the castle doors will open, as though of their own accord, and one will walk out free. The same sorts of doubts creep into any attempt to pin down the real framework of the "domestic revolution" that underlies Ellis's central thesis.
62 CHAPTER 3 Did the Victorian angel in the house exist as early as the Gothic novel? Were these separate spheres established as early as the 1790s to be represented in Radcliffe? It seems to me that there were really two different conceptions of the home working here and two different aesthetic representations of it. The facts of social history are elusive, and it would take some new Lawrence Stone, more broadly and deeply read than I, to research the social history of gender in the nineteenth century, where Stone's own massive treatise stopped. But let me put forward an alternative hypothesis that I think could be more easily supported by the data we currently have available. 1. To the extent that it is a response to a social problem of domestic life, the Gothic novel of Radcliffe (and of the Brontes) is a reflection of the power relations within a residual patriarchal form of family arrangement— one whose operations are sufficiently Gothic in the Harlowe family of Clarissa —in

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture