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"HISTORY AND REAL UFE": ANNA JAMESON, SHAKSPEAREV HEROINES AND VICTORIAN WOMEN Anne E. Russell Trent University Anna Jameson's Characteristics of Women, Moral, Poetical, and Historical (1832), known in its many later editions as Shakspeare's Heroines, was an important and influential text in the Victorian enthusiasm for Shakespeare's women characters as ideal models of womanliness. So widely was Shakspeare's Heroines read that almost every subsequent nineteenth-century writer on Shakespeare's women characters mentions the book. Nina Auerbach notes the centrality of Jameson's work in developing the Victorian perception that Shakespeare's women characters "represented the apotheosis ofselfhood, and a glorification ofwomanhood in particular" (207). The popularity of Jameson's book suggests that she struck a chord in Victorian society, sounding strong, and often contradictory, feelings about Shakespeare's characters, about women, and about the roles fictional characters can play in imaginative and moral life. As many critics of nineteenth-century culture note, the dominant ideological positions regarding women and womanliness are fraught with contradictions and tensions. Certainly, like the ideal ofwomanliness itself, Shakspeare's Heroines is full of internal stresses in its underlying assumptions, in its ostensible social aims, and in its rhetorical strategies. Influenced by realist literary practices, Jameson assumes that fictional characters can be understood in terms of contemporary moral and social ideologies. But in order to make the characters contemporary, Jameson offers psychological analyses of motives which are not always explicit, or even implicit, in the play text. Assuming that character is a function of inherentgender identity, JamesondefinesShakespeare'swomencharacters primarily in terms of their womanliness. The open and flexible definition of womanliness proposed in the text functions to appropriate Shakespeare's fictional, dramatic characters as understandable, even familiar, in terms of nineteenth-century social and gender ideologies. Victorian Review Y12 (Winter 1991). 36Victorian Review Jameson's aims, as well as her assumptions, contain tensions. Her definition ofwomanliness is both ideal and real—but the "reality" of ideal womanliness is paradoxically made manifest by fictional characters. The real and the ideal interact in complex and contradictory ways as the text manoeuvres around unresolved contradictions in its often defensive exaltation of Shakespeare's "heroines." Rhetorical strategies such as open definitions, contradictory images, and two different authorial identities function to undermine unacknowledged criticisms of the morality and propriety ofShakespeare's women characters. These strategic manoeuvres are particularly apparent in the discussions of Rosalind and Viola, who disguise themselves as men throughout most ofAs You Like It and Twelfth Night, yet who are treated by Jameson as ideal models of womanliness. Shakspeare's Heroines appropriates diese women characters as understandable in terms of nineteenth-century gender ideologies, while simultaneously attempting to inculcate a more flexible and permissive set of standards of behavior for women. Jameson's aims are both literary—a defence of Shakespeare and his characters—and social—a critique ofher own culture's definition of womanliness, though not of the conception of womanliness as an ideal. The title of the first edition, Characteristics of Women, Moral, Poetical, and Historical, suggests which aim was more important to Jameson, while the later title, Shakspeare'sHeroines, indicates the way in which the work was understood. In order to put Jameson's representation of womanliness into context, it is necessary to consider the crucial importance of the concept of "womanliness" as an ideal in nineteenth-century discussions of women. Defining the nature of women and womanliness was the focus of much polemical writing throughoutJameson's life. Anna Brownell Murphy, later Jameson, was born in 1794, two years after the publication of Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication ofthe Rights of Women. She grew up in a period in which not only works on the nature and rights of women, but also conduct books outlining the duties of women, became increasingly popular. That Jameson's work comes out of a tradition which describes and analyzes women is made apparent by the first part ofits original title, Characteristics of Women. However, the second part of that tide, Moral, Poeticaland Historical, distinguishes Jameson's work from the increasingly domestic focus of contemporary works on women such as Mrs. John Sandford's Woman in HerSocialand Domestic Character (1831) and Sarah Stickney Ellis's...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 35-49
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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