Victorian Women Character Analysis

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Abstract: The paper aims to delineate the contribution of Oscar Wilde, the late nineteenth century Irish writer towards the image of Victorian woman. To do so, the paper analyzes the woman characters of Wilde’s plays namely, Salomé, An Ideal Husband, Lady Windermere’s Fan, A Woman of no Importance, The Importance of being Earnest, and The Duchess of Padua. It is seen that Wilde makes no attempts to define ‘New Woman’ or a woman per se in any fixed or absolute terms. He sketches them in varying shades of grey and keeps them rooted in the realistic world of human imperfection. Wilde portrays his female characters as individuals who, despite their shortcomings carry themselves with exemplary dignity. Wilde’s women characters cannot be easily evaluated…show more content…
Instead, Wilde treats the idea with the same sense of freedom, compassion and toleration with which he looked at everything in life. His kind and liberal approach towards the issue of changing image of woman is vastly depicted in his plays through his female protagonists whom he provides the liberty and the space to be what they are. Wilde’s women characters are presented and projected in the plays in all their variety and versatility. In the portrayal of Salomé of the eponymous play, for instance, Wilde makes a “heroine out of this sublimated sinner,” (85) though, on the face of it, she is a murderess consumed by her sexual cravings. In this context, Clement Scott, the influential critic of the Daily Telegraph, observes that Wilde “has fascinated us with a savage.” (79) Another illustration of Wilde’s toleration is depicted in the acutely narcissistic personality of Mrs Cheveley of the play An Ideal Husband. Mrs Cheveley is presented as a vagrant woman who indulges in frivolous activities such as stealing brooches and disturbing the conjugal harmony of others in pursuit of her personal gains. Yet Wilde holds no contempt for her. In the end of the play, he simply obliterates Mrs Cheveley from the scene “unredeemed but unpunished.”…show more content…
This is particularly true for aristocratic women like Lady Windermere of the play Lady Windermere’s Fan and Lady Chiltern of the play An Ideal Husband for whom the pressures in the fin-de-siècle were largely psychological. (100) In the fin-de-siècle, while the middle-class women were making their presence felt as teachers, nurses and in other professions, there were women belonging to the genteel section of the society who camouflaged their suppression, anxiety and desires behind their extravagant lifestyle and elaborate costumes. Wilde’s unique contribution to the English drama of the 1890s lies in presenting the “anatomy of the soul” (108) of such aristocratic women. Wilde exposes the stunted emotional and intellectual growth of these women as generated by the subservient attitude of a patriarchal society. Wilde’s plays reveal the fact that since the true intentions and emotions of women belonging to the higher class of the society often lie under the veneer of prudery and complacency, women are liable to be misinterpreted. To cite an example, Mrs Erlynne of the play Lady Windermere’s Fan has been severely criticized for her “final choice of brazen independence over motherly duty.” (107) She is branded as an insensitive woman who abandons her child for an illicit relationship. But
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