Madness and the Wrongs of Women: Explorations of Madness within Selected Victorian Literature
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The aim of this dissertation is to determine whether the representations of women in the selected Victorian literature are a true and fair illustration of female madness or whether women were labelled insane by the patriarch society as a result of the rebellious attitudes showcased by women in the late nineteenth-century. It will explore in particular the female characters in Charlotte Brontës’ Jane Eyre (1847), Wilkie Collins The Woman in White (1860) and Mary Elizabeth Braddon Lady Audley’s Secret (1862). In Chapter One the representation of the Madwoman in the Attic is deemed to be an inaccurate and an unfair portrayal of madness. Bertha embodies the oppression felt worldwide by woman that were protesting and rebelling against the traditional patriarchal attitudes of the nineteenth-century. Bertha’s madness has been deemed a label by the patriarch system for her native otherness, unfeminine image and ability to challenge the stronghold of the patriarchal society. Chapter Two explores Anne Catherick as the escaped madwoman free from the asylums constraints. Anne embodies the hatred for the patriarch system that placed her within the asylum walls and is set on destroying the accustomed order. Anne’s madness has been suggested as a mixture of a mental deficiency as well as her threat against Sir Percival. Chapter Three discusses Lady Audley as the upper-class madwoman with the ability to move between the malleable social boundaries of the nineteenth-century society. Lady Audley embodies the image of the New Woman that began to emerge in the late 1860’s and her madness is suggested to stem from her ambitious desires to conserve her wealthy and powerful status by any means necessary. Lady Audley concedes to her madness suggesting herself that she has performed the actions of a madwoman and should be punished as such by the patriarch society.
Dissertation by Bethan Jones for the BA Modern History & English course, submitted May 2012.
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