Publication in: Fall 2023 Issue

Silence, Violence, or Insanity: Rejections of True Womanhood
Shelby Larue Sizemore
Author Email:
Faculty Mentor(s):
Rachel Hanson
Abstract / Summary:
The Victorian Era (1820-1914) was a period of change and innovation as industry and technology rose exponentially. One of the more pervasive ideologies that arose during this era was the expectation of white, upper and middle-class women to follow the values of “True Womanhood.” This ideal expected women to be domestically dutiful, pious, submissive, and considered them angels of the home. This role came with its costs, women were barred from working or being involved economically in society at all. They were expected to remain solely in the home, and they must act as the moral authority to their male counterparts. As they were expected to live with very little social or intellectual stimulation, bourgeoisie women turned to domestic hobbies such as reading.Two stories in particular focused on women and featured subversions of these gender roles that suppressed nineteenth century women. The first is a short story; The Yellow Wallpaper written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman The second is a play titled Hedda Gabler, written by Henrik Ibsen. These two works feature female protagonists who make intentional choices to subvert the gender roles of True Womanhood. Each of these pieces gained support from the women who engaged with them, and began the first steps towards the formation of the feminist political movement. The purpose of this research is to identify the ways that the characters in these two stories pushed back against True Womanhood, and the impact that reading and viewing characters like Jane (The Yellow Wallpaper’s protagonist) and Hedda Gabler had on bourgeois women. I argue that these characters are explicit subversions of True Womanhood, and their characterizations provided a sense of solidarity within nineteenth century women. Through the representation of women who struggled against domesticity, women were able to align with both the characters and each other, thus leading to the formation of the New Woman in the twentieth century.
Publication Date: