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Comparing Marriage in Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman, She Stoops to Conquer and Moll Flanders

Separation between Love and Marriage in Mary the Wrongs of Woman, She Stoops to Conquer and Moll Flanders

Our aim in this paper will be to analyze and discuss the different ways in which love and marriage were dealt with during the eighteenth century and to what extent these two terms were linked together or considered as opposite. To accomplish this matter we are going to focus our attention on several works that are representative from this period and that reflect in an accurate way the social mores and more specifically, marriage conventions and romantic love. Throughout this discussion we will be emphasizing the idea that marriage is represented in these works as an institution completely detached from love and that it pursues more than anything else economic purposes and an rising in the social hierarchy.

First of all we should account for the situation of English women during the eighteenth century, that despite several social improvements, continued having less rights or freedom than men within the family and marriage as an institution. Patriarchal forms were still a deep-rooted custom that ruled society, which was male-centered. Marriage was often forced on women as their only way of having a recognized position in society, but at the same time led them to slavery. Women’s property could be spent to the discretion of the husband as she was considered, together with all that she owned, a possession of the husband. Significantly relevant is the fact that the convention of marriages arranged by parents was still widely accepted.

Evidences of this aspect can be found in Goldsmith’s work She Stoops to Conquer. At the very beginning of the play Mr.Hardcastle expresses that he has already chosen a husband for…

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…and stability. However, the existence of arranged marriages and consequently the lack of love, turned matrimony into a prison where women were locked. A male-ruled world transformed women into virtual slaves that had no rights, and the cases where marriage was the result of a true and passionate love can be counted for as exceptional.

Works Cited

Wollstonecraft, M., Mary The Wrongs of Woman, Oxford World’s Classics. (1976)

Defoe, D., Moll Flanders (1978) Penguin English Classics. (1999)

Goldsmith, O., She Stoops to Conquer Dover Thrift Editions. (1991)

Stone, L. The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800, (1979)

Pelikan Ty, E. Unsex’d Revolutionaries: Five Women Novelists of the 1790’s. University of Toronto Press, Toronto. (1993)

Spencer, J., The Rise of the Woman Novelist: From Aphra Behn to Jane Austen Oxford Press (1987)

The Sublime Savage: Caliban on Setebos

The Sublime Savage: Caliban on Setebos

“Caliban my slave, who never / Yields us kind answer.” (The Tempest, I.ii.310-1) “Caliban on Setebos” was one of Robert Browning’s more popular poems among the Victorians, for its presumed satire of orthodox Calvinism, Puritanism, and similarly grim Christian sects. And Browning as Shakespeare’s savage does indeed seem to hurl a few barbs in that direction, but the poet’s exercise seems to be as much one in alternative theology. Caliban’s bog-bound conjectures, in their significant departures from standard religious doctrine, serve as both an interesting repudiation of Archdeacon Paley’s attempts to rationalize God, and as an entertaining ‘science-fiction’ tale, if you will, of religious thought under alternate circumstances.

Caliban is, of course, the “salvage and deformed slave” of Shakespeare’s dramatis personae in The Tempest, son of the deceased witch Sycorax, servant of the mage Prospero, consort of and bootlicker for Stephano and Trinculo, failed plotters and drunken buffoons. “As disproportion’d in his manners / As in his shape” (V.i.290-1), he has tried to ravish Prospero’s daughter Miranda before being exiled to his cave, and in the course of the play attempts to overthrow Prospero himself and install Stephano on the throne of the island. At last, though, Duke Prospero comes to pardon even Caliban — “This thing of darkness I / acknowledge mine” (V.i.275-6), and his drudge promises to “be wise hereafter, / and seek for grace” (V.i.294-5) or favor with his master.

Browning certainly did his research in crafting the poem: near the end of the work, Caliban cowers under Setebos’ “raven that has told…

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… in a way, / Taketh his mirth with make-believes” (ll. 168-9). Caliban’s easy acceptance of a capricious, often cruel deity, and his willingness to abase himself in penance for irrational divine anger, serves as a satiric reproof to both Paley and the Calvinists, and eloquent support for Browning’s more palatable God of love.

Shakespeare’s Prospero claims that, without his help and education, Caliban “didst not, savage, / Know thine own meaning, but wouldst gabble like / A thing most brutish” (I.ii.357-9). Some of Browning’s detractors considered “Caliban on Setebos” still to be brutish, for its harsh language and unpleasant philosophy. Yet the poem is successful in its aim: it is an effective purgative to complacent religious theory, and an entertaining glimpse into a putative religion based on quite different tenets from Victorian Christianity.

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