In eighteenth century novels, a common means of discussing the role of women in society is through the characterization of two good sisters. The heroine of such a novel is a pure, kind young woman who also has a streak of spunkiness. Her sister may be more good and kind, but she is more submissive and reserved. I would like to look at these sisters (and their mothers) in Ann Radcliffe’s A Sicilian Romance , and The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole.
It is possible that The Castle of Otranto was the first to introduce these two good sisters as a means of exploring the duties and expectations of modern woman and her right to love. Interestingly, the book comes out in favor of increased individuality and lessened submissiveness. One way contemporary ideas of femininity were being defined was through conduct books written to guide women. “Prescriptive writing…in the eighteenth century tended to portray most women as largely passive in the face of men, biology, and fate…” (Hunt, 75). Walpole and Radcliffe explore what happens when a woman is not passive. The consequences of this independence are gauged against the fate of the more acceptably feminine sister (and mother).
Though not blood relatives, Isabella has been raised as Matilda’s sister, and her relationship with the prince and princess is one of daughter to parents. Isabella has a more independent identity than Matilda does. There are suggestions that Isabella is slightly more sensual than Matilda, someone who admits her sexuality and attraction to men. Bianca, Matilda’s lady, says, “But there is my Lady Isabella would not be so reserved to me: she will let me talk to her of young men;…
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…ill inevitably have to compromise her virtue for her happiness. Walpole allows Matilda to remain obedient by having her death occur before she must make a final choice. “Well! to be sure, Madam, you were born to be a saint,” says Bianca to Matilda, “and there is no resisting one’s vocation; you will end in a convent at last” (Walpole, 42). Bianca is close to the truth as Matilda is martyred.
Hunt, Margaret R. The Middling Sort: Commerce, Gender, and Family in England, 1680-1780. London: University of California Press, 1996
Radcliffe, Ann. A Sicilian Romance. Edited by Alison Milbank. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Tobin, Beth Fowkes. History, Gender and Eighteenth-Century Literature. London: University of Georgia Press, 1994.
Walpole, Horace. The Castle of Otranto. London: Grey Walls Press Limited, 1950. 1998
The Political Structure of More’s Utopia
Over the past few centuries the word “utopia” has developed a variety of meanings: a perfect state, paradise, heaven on earth, but the original definition of the word means something quite different. “Utopia”, coined by Saint Thomas More in his famous work Utopia, written during the English Renaissance, literally means “nowhere”. It is ironic that a word meaning nowhere has become a catchall phrase for paradise. More’s work is popular because of its wit, its use of metaphor, and its proposals for the perfect state. The work is claimed by Nicholas Paine Gilman in Socialism and the American Spirit to be:
a masterpiece of wit, written by a man who knew the world, and sent forth this
book, inspired by Colet and Erasmus, not as a sure prophecy of
the form civilization must take in a thousand years or less, but as a
quickener of human sympathy and a stimulus for thought and faith in man (353).
The work is a masterpiece of metaphor written by a man with a tremendous imagination, an imagination that created a country called Utopia, that means “nowhere” with a capital city called Amaurote that means “”dimly seen”,” with a “waterless” river, Anyder, flowing by (Gilman).
Utopia has caught the imagination of millions through the years with its government run by and for the people, its elimination of private property, and its care for the elderly. It is a place that seems to good to be true, and it most likely is. A state of Utopia has never existed in the world and will never exist, but a number of ideas suggested by More have either become a reality or have inspired further discussion of the perfect state.
The type of government More proposes and the manner in which he proposes it will run has spurred a tre…
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…ithout worrying where their next meal will come from or how to pay the mortgage. Superficially, Utopia seems like the perfect state where “the whole island is like a single family” (More 83). It appears to be a perfectly run communal socialist living environment, but a closer reading reveals something much different. After all, Utopia and all its rules were created by a King. The King developed Utopia exactly how he wanted it to be. Therefore, Utopia is not a true communist, socialist, or democratic state. While More probably “would have liked to see rather than hope” for many of the living conditions, in the end, the old English monarchy shines through. Did More really want to change the world? One will never know. The only answer I do know is that Utopia and the idea of the perfect state will be discussed for eternity.
Sir Ernest Barker