VICTORIAN WIVES by Katharine Moore


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The benighted Victorian wife in her grotesque doll house gives Moore the opportunity to introduce thumbnail sketches of various celebrated Victorian couples: Jane and Thomas Carlyle, George and Caroline Norton, the three wives of Coventry Patmore, Frances and Tom Trollope, etc. Full of indignation, Moore goes after the era's conception of womanhood as a blushing flower (""in the language of flowers"" the lily was preferred to the rose because of its more intimate association with purity). Patmore, the archetypal period husband sought a resident ""angel in the house"" and Ruskin disposed of the ""rights"" of woman with the words: ""Of all the insolent, all the foolish persuasions that by any chance could enter and hold your empty little heart."" Moore remarks on the appalling frequency with which their blushing wives sickened of consumption, childbearing and, presumably, intellectual torpor -- and hypochondria was everywhere. Mocking Anthony Trollope's opinion that man was meant to be the stalwart tower, woman the clinging ivy, Moore shows how ideals departed from reality with both Mrs. Trollope and the writer Margaret Oliphant courageously propping up their crumbling towers. A separate section considers Victorian wives in fiction; the ""witches, the angels and the nitwits of Dickens,"" the ""inescapable parasites of Trollope."" By way of contrast there is a final section on the greater latitude and self-assertiveness allowed American women during this period. Almost all of this has been decried and lamented before but Moore focuses the plight of her heroines movingly. ""Good Lord, give me a personality,"" one of them cried at her husband's death.

Pub Date: Aug. 5th, 1974
Publisher: St. Martin's Press