Examine the depictions of women in TWO of the texts we have studied.
(I would recommend longer, more studied texts like Shakespeare or Spencer or the Colonial writers.)
*NOTE THAT YOU DO NOT WANT TO MAKE GENERALIZATIONS ABOUT THE TIME PERIOD; YOUR FOCUS IS LITERARY ANALYSIS; WHAT DOES THE LITERARY TEXT REVEAL ABOUT GENDER*
The assignment should have a clear topic supported by citations from the literature. The paper should a MINIMUM of 4 pages. It must be MLA compliant - use 12 point Times New Roman font and there should be no extra spacing or margins larger than one inch. (In other words, an HONEST 4+ page essay.)
You are also required to reference 2 academic/peer-reviewed articles FROM THE LIBRARY DATABASE (not google, wiki, etc.) These secondary sources MUST engage in literary analysis of your chosen texts. (So if you are writing about Hamlet then the source has to delve into Hamlet.)
Avoid separating your paragraphs by text since your essay with lose cohesion. (This is not a compare/contrast essay.) Try to develop a synthesis between the work. (A paragraph can engage both texts under a theme -- example, marriage.)
Be sure to draw from the texts and integrate support CONCISELY.
Depictions of Women in Defoe’s Moll Flanders and Burney’s Evelina
The 18th century and the restoration period saw a rise in the gradually differentiating depictions – as women’s rights were slowly but surely gaining importance – of women in literary works, as well as women writers. However, the “proper modes of conduct for women” were still prominent, meaning that women were expected to act in certain ways such as being obedient to their husbands, bowing down to male authority, preserving their virtue and being a dutiful wife.
At the beginning of this century, women were first seen in literature from the scope of male authors such as Defoe, Richardson and Fielding. Their typical heroines were usually either paragons of virtue or vice. A woman in the early 18th century novel either gave the readers a lesson by being like Moll in Moll Flanders, or like Pamela from Pamela. It is also important to mention that the living conditions of women from different social classes were wildly different. For example, a woman like Moll Flanders who did not have anything to herself had to depend on a good marriage to be able to live comfortably. Most women did, in fact, even if they were rich, they were still expected to marry and give themselves over to their husbands. However, a poor woman either did that, or fell into prostitution or thievery, in a similar way to what Moll did. Then, of course, they were seen as “fallen” women, and were regarded as outcasts. On the other hand, there were women like Pamela, who was “rewarded” for her virtue because she had protected her virginity despite being a lower-class servant against the attacks from her master. Overall, the early 18th century novel were dominated by male writers and their women figures in the novel.
After a path had been cleared, more women writers followed. Fanny Burney, Ann Radcliffe and Jane Austen were among those who depicted life in the 18th century British society from a woman’s perspective, with all of them having different approaches on representing the 18th century British woman. This paper will particularly focus on the representation of women in Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders and Fanny Burney’s Evelina.
2.0 Moll Flanders
In Moll Flanders, arguably what could count as one of his masterpieces, Defoe pictures an image of a woman named Moll Flanders who was born in Newgate Prison because her mother was a thief. She later lost both her parents and was brought up in an orphanage. Through her life, she always felt the pressure of living comfortably, so she constantly sought marriage. As time passed, she lost her youthful charm and with that, she also lost her way of living. After that, she had no choice but to fall into thievery just like her mother. In the end, she was expelled to Virginia for her crimes, but she was still fortunate that she finally was able to live a life she dreamed of since her childhood.
The fact that she sought marriage to be able to live comfortably is perfectly understandable, considering the patriarchal society of the 18th century England. The best – and often the only – way to earn social status and a comfortable life for women was through marriage. And while Defoe is often hailed as an early advocate of women’s rights, his portrayal of Moll Flanders and the many other women in the novel might still leave a bitter taste in some readers’ mouths, considering that most women in the book care for themselves more than their children or husbands, and this does not exactly fit into the 18th century norm, and is also not something that is actually ‘celebrated’ in the novel. Among the choices of being an obedient wife, a sultry mistress, a lowly servant, a lowlife thief or a prostitute without virtue, none of them are what one could call ‘flattering’.
Defoe is also criticized for the fact that he depicted Moll Flanders as a person in a submissive position to men. He perpetuates the thought that in order to be economically and socially comfortable, a woman either needs to be born rich or to be married to a rich man. As mentioned in an article by Ahmad Albanna:
The main character of the book is not even Moll Flanders. Namely, it is Moll Flanders in relation to men. Daniel DeFoe does not let his character choose an alternative path in life. It is safe to assume that if the main character of the novel had been a man, the notions about women in the book would have been much less permanent. It once again demonstrates DeFoe’s dualism in his perception of gender relations; men are independent and self-sufficient, while women are dependent and vulnerable. (Albanna)
However, Defoe can be applauded for the fact that he chooses to portray what happens to women of that age exactly as it is. Some aspects of Moll’s behavior do not exactly fit into the expectations of the age. For example, she is aware of her sexual attractiveness and her sexuality, which was something frowned upon for women in 18th century. They had to be ‘pure’ and ‘virtuous’, even when they were married. However, Moll is sexually active too. She is also not preferable for marriage, since men were expected to marry women who had a fortune at that age. And Moll did not have any possessions. Because of both her gender and class statuses, Moll was the victim of circumstances and inequalities.