n Desire and Domestic Fiction, Nancy Armstrong connects the rise of the domestic woman to the rise of the novel and the emergence of a new middle-class in England during the eighteenth and nineteenth Centuries. Novels such as Samuel Richardson's Pamela, Jane Austen's Emma, and Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre portray a new ideal woman who gains authority over the "household, leisure time, courtship procedures, and kinship relations" (3). According to Armstrong, the woman's newfound jurisdiction over matters of the private life positioned her not only as a cultural voice that defined middle-class values, but also as a political voice amidst the "competing ideologies" of the aristocracy, church, and industry:

It is my contention that narratives which seemed to be concerned solely with matters of courtship and marriage in fact seized the authority to say what was female, and that they did so in order to contest the reigning notion of kinship relations that attached most power and privilege to certain family lines...I am saying the female was the figure, above all else, on whom depended the outcome of the struggle among competing ideologies. (5)

In charting the novel's capacity to narrate and construct the woman's cultural and political identity during the nineteenth century, Armstrong understands the Early Victorian Period (specifically the 1820s and 1830s) as one of political resistance, violence, disorder, and rebellion of the laboring classes (166-67). Novels dealing with "misguided desire," often including "violent scenes of punishment and exclusion," not only agitated but constructed a politically unstable readership (177).

Brontë domesticates the disfigured Rochester in Jane Eyre. But Aurora's eventual domestic authority over Romney presupposes her witnessing Marian's demonstration of motherhood — an exemplary maternity that answers Aurora's literal and figurative "mother want" (1.40) throughout the novel-poem. Barrett Browning codes Marian not so much as a domestic woman but as a mother whose violent rape, penury, and exile direct herself towards financial autonomy and Aurora towards domestic authority. Enduring the physical and emotional trauma of rape, unemployment, and Lady Waldemar's clever machinations, Marian demonstrates by means of caring for "her poor unfathered child" (7.327) how maternity replaces violence as the defining characteristic of the new female "knight-errant" (cavalier). If Aurora emerges as a domestic hero finally embodying the agency to oversee and direct the nature of her marriage to Romney, she does so only in response to Marian's confrontation of violent rape and her rejection of Romney's offer marriage — a choice that suggests ultimately her capacity to control courtship procedures with just as much authority as Aurora.


Victorian Overview E. B. Browning The Warden The Warden

Last modified 1996