By Susan Ostrov Weisser
Susan Weisser explores the ways that 4 British novelists use and rework the topic of women's relation to sexual love within the eighteenth and 19th centuries. having a look heavily at novels through Samuel Richardson, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte and George Eliot, the writer analyzes the instant in cultural background while gender roles, sexuality and literature meet to develop into a brand new ideology: one within which the discourses of sexuality and romantic love are visible as either confident of girl freedom and harmful of girl identity.
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Extra resources for Women and Sexual Love in the British Novel, 1740–1880: A ‘Craving Vacancy’
Yet asking why the image of chaste womanhood was elevated to new levels of moral significance leads directly to still more interesting questions. How was it that this imagery touched the collective hearts of so many readers? What does it mean that women themselves were the most ardent admirers of Patmore's poetry? It was women, in fact, who were the chief consumers of the entire literary industry built around the myth of romantic love in the nineteenth century and beyond. Can this be explained entirely by false consciousness?
By contrast, the moral possibilities of restraining man's egoistic, brutal nature seem to have appealed most to the intellectual and sentimental popularizers. 40 Indeed, much of the writing on Moral Femininity is obviously prescriptive in tone and intention, rather than descriptive. When Sharpe's London Magazine, for example, undertook to define 'womanliness' in 1866, it contrasted a woman's ability to bear 'danger with calmness, suffering with patience, injury with forbearance', plus 'dependence, gentleness and gracefulness' to the masculine qualities of 'courage, strength, vigour, energy and dignity'.
She veils herself in timidity and modesty, because her sex is a power in itself, exposing her to the desire of men ... H. Lawrence, 'A Propos of Lady Chatterly's Lover', 1930 From this elementary iconography may be derived the whole metaphysic of sexual differences - man aspires; woman has no other function but to exist, waiting .... Between her legs lies nothing but a zero, the sign for nothing, that only becomes something when the male principle fills it with meaning. Angela Carter, The Sadeian Woman and the Ideology of Pornography, 1978 Clarissa, as she tells her own story, was once woven of whole cloth: her public and private selves were one before the cloth was rent.