Ranting About Literature—Victorian Heroines and their own Badassery

What’s that? You thought I was done ranting about literature after my post about Classic Literature, Shakespeare, and Time-Traveling While Reading?

Nah. I got a lot more to rant about. So, let’s move on Victorian Literature and its famous heroines. Because as I said in my previous literature rant, I’ve got a lot to say about Victorian Literature and our negative opinions about it!

Now, like the Classic Lit, Shakespeare, and Time-Travel post, this rant comes from an old blog post of mine. I’m rewriting it while still focusing on the same themes and ideas. Because I still agree with those themes and ideas. But it’s been years; I can clear things up a bit more.

Where’s This Rant Coming From?

This rant is brought to you by a GoodReads review I saw on Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, one of my favorite Victorian classics. The reviewer wrote about how they hated Victorian Literature and went so far as to say the heroines of the time were boring and “not badass”.

And, you know what—sometimes, it only takes reading something like that to send me off on the rant path. Full steam ahead!

By the way: this rant is very much connected to that Time-Travel rant. Because we need to do the same thing here. In order to appreciate these novels and the characters—especially the heroines within—we need to consider what the Victorian Era was like for people—especially the women.

Because the world was completely different back then, boys and girls.

So, in this rant, I’m primarily using North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen as my examples. I’m doing this because:

  • It was a review for North and South that inspired this rant, and I’ve read it several times (see, it’s one of my favorites), and
  • Pride and Prejudice, as well as Jane Austen, is probably one of the more well-known of the Victorian novels.

Let us take a journey into Victorian times. Readers, may I ask you to consider Miss Margaret Hale from North and South and Miss Elizabeth Bennett of Pride and Prejudice. I am going to tell you just why they are badasses in their own right.

Margaret Hale in “North and South”

Listen, I could talk to you guys all day about North and South. Honestly, I would, but I’ve got an argument to make here. So, let’s cover the basics.

If you’re not familiar with this book, North and South is about a family who must move from the rural south of England to the very industrious north. The family is thrown into a world that is very different than their own, and they must determine how to live within this new society. Our protagonist is Margaret Hale. She is just awesome, y’all. It genuinely broke my heart to see her being called “boring”. And considering how crucial she is to the bigger political outcomes of the book, I cannot fathom how anyone could call her that.

This is why we need Reading Time-Traveling: Margaret Hale is a badass of the Victorian Era.

In an age where the male heir is responsible for everything, Margaret jumps in and accepts this role. She aids her father in finding and securing a new home. She discusses money and finances with other men. And she actively calls out Mr. Thornton when she finds his behavior to his workers lacking, refusing to cower to him.

And occasionally she gets this wrong. Sometimes, her audacious attitude does land her in hot water. But she corrects herself and learns from her errors. She’s a very full character.

But she also acts as a bridge between the workers of industry and the masters of industry. She saw both sides of those worlds, and helped the two find balance. Because she openly spoke with both Mr. Thornton (master) and Nicholas (worker), she was able to help both see how each side of the industry suffered. Margaret was the common thread between these two worlds.

Margaret Hale does so much more than most Victorian heroines. She might not be a Captain Marvel or Hermione Granger, but she’s not living in present day. For the Victorian Era, it’s pretty badass to see a woman take on societal and political conflicts.

Elizabeth Bennet in “Pride and Prejudice”

We all know Pride and Prejudice. Even if you haven’t read it, you’re aware of this story. The saga of Elizabeth Bennett and her enemies-to-lovers rift with Mr. Darcy. (Yes, this is over-simplified, but this is the OG; we all know it!)

And while a lot of women today won’t consider Elizabeth to be a badass for denying two marriages, she actually is when you consider the time period. Marriage in the Victorian Era was big deal, especially for women. There’s a reason why most mothers in Victorian literature are frantic, trying to find a husband for their daughters. It’s a trope for a reason: it was the reality.

Marriage meant safety and security for women in the Victorian age. They would have their own homes; they would be supported and protected. In Pride and Prejudice, Mrs. Bennett is frantic herself with five daughters all needing to be married. If Mr. Bennett passed away, they would all be in danger of losing their home and livelihood, as none of the assets would pass down to the daughters.

How lucky we are that this isn’t the way the world is now. I’m so grateful I am able to build my own life, choose my own career and path, and write without fear.

But headstrong Elizabeth is a strong, badass character for two big reasons:

  1. she denies two different mens’ offers of marriage because she
    • loved neither of them (at the time anyway), and
    • stood by her own worth and integrity (a big deal both in Victorian times and today); and
  2. she believed in being her own person. She’s intelligent and refuses to hide it, and is quick-witted, which would not be considered favorable traits in those days.

Elizabeth Bennet is not your typical Victorian woman, and that’s what makes her stand out as a female character of the time.

What It Takes to Be a Badass Woman in Victorian Literature

It’s quite simple: standing in your own strength, knowing your worth, and going against the norms of the time. Badassery in the Victorian Age is not about kicking butt or saving the world.

Think about the other women we see in Pride and Prejudice. Caroline Lucas flat-out says that at her age, she’s a burden to her parents. All of the Bennett girls are at risk of being thrown from their home if their father dies. Mrs. Bennett fretted over marriages for all her daughters at once. This was more normal. Spinsterhood was scary for women and for their parents. Women didn’t often do business dealings or handle things other than household duties and child-rearing.

So, when Margaret Hale helps her mother and father find a house based on their current finances, or Elizabeth Bennett explicitly tells Mr. Darcy that he’s an arrogant jerk and she would never think about marrying him—that is quite badass for the time.

Because women of the Victorian Era wouldn’t think about doing these things. And that’s kind of an amazing thing about these Victorian novel written by women.

I’m not writing this to incite rage at men of the past. This is simply a reality of what the world was like back then. And when we choose to look at these novels with that understanding, we see another level of depth. We realize that these characters, these heroines, are badass in their own right.

And the authoresses that wrote them? Yeah, they were badasses, too. I’ll write a little bit about them next time as well.

(Originally posted at: Write it up ye)

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