"... Remember: you are bound to your husband for life." : 'The Tenant of Wildfell Hall' and the condition of married women in nineteenth century England
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The legal economic position of women within marriage caused the indignation of the first English feminists around the middle years of the 19th century. The reason of this anger lay not only in the loss of legal and economic identity for married women, but also in the lack of separation or divorce laws with could allow women to end unhappy marriages, practically married women were 'the nearest approximation in a free society to slaves'. The weight of the question was such as to force a debate in Parliament between Conservatives and Progressives aimed at finding a solution to the problem. The question, however, was not limited to the political sphere; other spheres of culture attempted to find their own solution to the problem. The world of letters seemed to be particularly concerned with the condition of married women. If we consider that the majority of mid-Victorian writers were women, this is not surprising by any means. Among the contemporary novels on the subject, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë is probably the work that mostly exemplifies this involvement. The second and last novel of the youngest Brontë not only focuses on the injustices inherent in mid-Victorian marriage, but also offers a critical reading of the question that evidently betrays feminist influxes. My thesis, which starts from the analyses of the contemporary laws of separation or divorce and of the 'Woman Question' in general, is aimed at determining through the study of the novel the extent of Anne Brontë's involvement in the 'question' and, consequently, at highlighting those elements that reveal a connection between Anne Brontë's literature and the first echoes of English Feminism.
Thesis, MPhil Master of Philosophy
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