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CONSTRUCTIONS OF MASCULINITY IN ADAM BEDE AND WIVES AND DAUGHTERS JENNIFER PANEK University of Toronto "It's a deep mystery — the way the heart of man turns to one woman out of all the rest he's seen i' the world, and makes it easier for him to work seven year for her, like Jacob did for Rachel, sooner than have any other woman for th' asking." (Adam Bede 78) "And I know quite well that he does not wish us to marry, unless —" She faltered and stopped. "Unless what?" said Mrs. Gibson, half-mocking. "Unless we love someone very dearly indeed," said Molly, in a low, firm tone. "Well, after this tirade — really rather indelicate, I must say — I have done." (Wives and Daughters 627) While questions ofwhat made a man ora woman a desirable mate may have seemed shrouded in mystery to the villagers of Hayslope in 1799, and dictated by manners to the Hollingford townsfolk of the 1830s, George Eliot and Elizabeth Gaskell addressed the subject within the context of mid-nineteenth century ideas about masculinity and femininity. Gillian Beer has explored how the publication of Darwin's The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871) caused "topics traditional to the novel — courtship, sensibility, the making of matches, women's beauty, man's dominance, inheritance in all its forms — [to become] charged with new difficulty" (213, Beer's italics). The Descent of Man postdates Adam Bede (1859) and Wives and Daughters (1864-5) by approximately a decade, but Darwin was hardly the first nineteenth-century thinker to advance opinions about what made certain specimens of each sex more biologically "fit" and consequently more sexually attractive than others. The writings of Herbert Spencer, Alexander Walker, and other scientific and social Victorian Review 22.2 (Winter 1996) 128Victorian Review theorists collectively affirm a notion that was to receive verification from Darwin's theory of human sexual selection: that while females were selected for beauty (Darwin 405), males were primarily selected for "genius" (353): the natural order decreed that woman's contribution to the improvement of the race was a fine physique, and man's a highly developed intellect. Although the feminine side of this equation and its relation to the nineteenth-century novel has been a subject of critical interest, the masculine side has yet to be fully explored. Adam Bede and Wives and Daughters have generally been ready by feminist critics for what the novels' deliberate pairings of female characters — Dinah and Hetty, and Molly and Cynthia — disclose about Victorian constructions of femininity; I wish, however, to focus on the equally significant but largely ignored pairings of male characters. With their remarkably parallel patterns of male character and courtship, these two novels can be seen as mutually illuminating with regard to contemporary constructions of masculinity and the question of what constitutes a sexually desirable man. Both Adam Bede and Wives and Daughters present us with a pair of brothers, one exceptionally clever and stalwart, the otiier less clever and more or less "feminized;" the potential sexual choices for these brothers are a pair of women related by kinship but not blood, one showily beautiful and shallow, the other quietly attractive and deeply loving. The clever brother falls in love with die beautiful woman, suffers a disillusionment, and transfers his affections to the other one, while the intellectually weaker brother prefers the "right" woman all along (or in Osborne Hamley's case, someone who closely resembles her), but ends the novel marginalized or dead. What attracts "masculine" men like Adam and Roger — but not Seth or Osborne — to Hetty and Cynthia? And what attracts Dinah and Molly to Adam and Roger? I intend to show that these novels depict a society in which a man's intellectual ability is, to a surprising degree, the measure of his sexual attractiveness and the primary determinant of his value on the marriage market. However, this definition of masculinity is one which both Eliot and Gaskell work to problematize. Although the novels seem wholeheartedly to celebrate masculine skill and intelligence, I will argue that at times this celebration is subdy undercut, with Eliot questioning the value placed on cleverness in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 127-151
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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