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PETTICOAT POWER AND PARSONS: ANTHONY TROLLOPE AND THE INFLUENCE OF WOMEN IN THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND AND ITS COMMUNITY JILL FELICITY DUREY Edith Cowan University Volumes have been written about the lack of opportunity for female employment in the nineteenth century (A. Owen 1989; P. Jalland 1986; G. Malmgren 1986; A. Summers 1983: 33-55; J. Hoch-Smith & A. Spring eds. 1978; L. Holcombe 1973; A. Allchin 1958; R. Strachey 1928). Few publications have focussed on the powerful contribution of the female population generally to nineteenth-century life. When they have they have stressed societal limitations rather than female contributions. J. Perkin concedes that a woman could learn to "manage" her husband if he was "persuaded" that any new idea was his own (1989: 258), but Perkin argues, above all, that women were treated as inferiors. Although L. Davidoff and C. Hall recognize the influence of female relatives on clerical Irin, they emphasize that "[s]erious Christians did not doubt that women were and should be subordinate to men socially" (1987: 114). D. Mermin stresses that, while Anglican sisterhoods and Evangelical sororities endowed women with some independence, "most clergymen wanted them . . . kept in strict subordination to the male hierarchy" (1993: 108). P. Edwards comes the closest to a positive statement about female influence by observing that 'petticoat government* in Trollope's Barchester straddles both low and high church parties (1977: 22). This article attempts to redress impressions of helpless Victorian womanhood. Publications hitherto have concentrated on limits imposed on women by nineteenth-century society. This article will take these limits as données. Its aim is to demonstrate that Anthony Trollope, well aware of society's constraints, illustrates the enormous influence of women within socially prescribed parameters. Critics and readers have so far looked no further than the comic surface. This article will show that Trollope's comic portrayal of the petticoat government of clerical Victorian Review 23.1 (Summer 1997) 16Victorian Review officers, from the most lowly to the most lofty, reveals that women's powerful influence in the private sphere extended into the public world. Sydney Smith's astute psychology, outlined in 1808, was, I believe, the inspiration for Trollope's portrayal of the clergy. Smith, Trollope's life-long friend, explained that "Bishops are men; not always the wisest of men", and as they grew older, became more and more "governed . . . by daughters and wives, and whoever minister to their daily comforts", which often led to "very capricious administration" (in G.A. Best 1964: 263). In other words, Smith suggests that the intimate proximity shared by men and women ensured that the female confined to the home had more influence on the public man than any other person, for the physical dependence of men on women close to them rendered indissoluble the psychological chain of command from the domestic hearth to the public place. I believe that TroUope extended this idea as an answer to active feminism. His fictional reification was the more potent through his unique comic realism. Its non-recognition is testament to his subtlety; his success to his efficacy. In addition to Smith's views was the Protestant attitude generally to womanhood and religion, which Trollope would have learned through his many ecclesiastical connections, explained by J. Durey (1995: 259294 ). The abolition of nunneries meant that Protestants had lost the aid of female devotion. Instead, they had the services of the wives and daughters of their reformed priesthood. Whilst Roman Catholics could rely only on celibate priests and nuns, Protestant clerics had an unpaid battery of female auxiliaries, as M. Hill observes (1973: 276). I believe that Trollope tacitly based his comedy on this to emphasize that women ruled the Church, while men reigned. While a significant number ofTrollope's female contemporaries held strong feminist views, some were perturbed by the possible consequences of gender division. Mrs. Jameson cautions women contemplating gender apartheid, warning that "[a]11 schemes ... in which men and women do not work in communion, have in them the seeds of change, discord and decay" (1855: 1 16). Trollope endorses this behind the masks of comedy. Female influence began predominantly at home and Trollope took advantage of this to provide his parsons...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 15-42
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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