Gender in Victorian Britain – Discussion Notes for Nov. 13, 2014

History 364-0-01: Gender and Sexuality in Victorian Britain; Northwestern University, Fall 2014

Homosexuality on Trial

  1. Cook describes London as a city to invite and thwart fantastical recreation and sensual indulgence. Does this describe the role played by the city in The Picture of Dorian Gray? Why or why not?
  2. How might the relationship between Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas be compared to the relationships among Dorian, Lord Henry, and Basil?
  3. Did the trials of Oscar Wilde broad fears about the decline or degeneration of British society? How?
  4. How does the portrayal of marriage in Wilde’s novel reflect or contrast with the portrayals of Victorian marriages in other texts we’ve read in class?
  5. In Douglas’ and Nicholson’s poems, a recurring theme corresponding with homosexuality is shame and secrecy; in what way did Oscar Wilde reject these Victorian attitudes in his life and in The Picture of Dorian Gray?
  6. Do you think that the Victorian male beast is at the heart of both The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Picture of Dorian Gray? If so, is it a different beast in each novel?
  7. How does Showalter characterize the treatment of women in The Picture of Dorian Gray? Do you agree with her assessment?
  8. How does The Picture of Dorian Gray reflect the aesthetic ideal of “art for art’s sake”? Can the novel be taken as an argument in favor of that ideal?
  9. What makes Sibyl Vane initially attractive to Dorian, and what changes his feelings about her? What is the purpose of the Sibyl/Dorian relationship in Wilde’s novel?
  10. In what ways do Wilde’s frequent and vivid descriptions of color reflect a rebellion against Victorian values?

  • Culture & corruption, criminal & the aesthetic, beauty & evil
  • Decadence: sensory intensity, exploration, pleasures
  • The decadent man: homosexual, “the perfect form of male aestheticization” (Showalter)

 

Gender in Victorian Britain – Lecture Notes for Nov. 11, 2014

History 364-0-01: Gender and Sexuality in Victorian Britain; Northwestern University, Fall 2014

Homosexuality on Trial

  • Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
    • Birth and family
      • Born during the Victorian time period
      • Born in Dublin, thinks of himself as Anglo-Irish, English upper- and middle-class
      • His mother was a well-known poet, assumed that all his writing talent comes from his mother’s side; also an Irish nationalist, much more so than Wilde’s father
      • His father, Sir William Wilde, was a well-known eye surgeon; he was knighted for his philanthropy (charity work)
    • Growth
      • Attends Trinity College, went on to study at Oxford (highly educated, very smart, able student) where he wins a prize for poetry
      • Wilde never aspired to be respectable Victorian middle-class
      • Falls under the spell of the aesthetic movement – “art for art’s sake”
      • Undertakes a tour of the United States and Canada in 1881 (still young), and it is “Wilde”ly successful
    • Marriage
      • In 1884, Wilde married Constance Lloyd Wilde (1858-1898) – a heterosexual love match
      • Constance is interested in women’s rights
      • Gives birth to two male children, Cyril (1885) and Vyvyan (1886)
      • As part of the aesthetic movement, Wilde decides to paint the walls of their house white
    • Work
      • Wrote a lot of plays – “Lady Windermere’s Fan” (1892), “A Woman of No Importance” (1893), “Salomé” (1894), “… Ideal Husband” (1895), “The Importance of Being Earnest” (1895)
      • When Wilde was on trial, three of his plays were running in the west end
    • Homosexuality
      • Robbie Ross (1886), a homosexual, was living with Wilde and his wife when he seduced Wilde while his wife was asleep
      • Up until this point, Wilde had been heterosexual and loved his wife, but after the encounter with Ross, his life completely changed
      • Wilde begins to experiment in a discreet way and moves towards a London homosexual circle
      • He is living the double life – he is remaining with his wife and adores his children, but also leads a secret, closeted double-life of a homosexual
      • The Cleveland St. Scandal hits in 1889 when Wilde is ramping up his homosexual life – the scandal involved a 15-year-old telegraph boy in a homosexual brothel

 

Gender in Victorian Britain – Discussion Notes for Nov. 06, 2014

History 364-0-01: Gender and Sexuality in Victorian Britain; Northwestern University, Fall 2014

Marriage, Sexual Independence, and “The New Woman”

  1. For each of the historical writers we have read this week, what was the purpose of marriage? With whom do you agree the most?
    • Marriage is union, not necessarily with love, to have children without being out of wedlock
    • Marriage is for the good of the nation and race, happiness is not important
  2. In what ways did “The Woman Who Did” challenge Victorian perceptions of gender, and in what ways did it reinforce them? Does this reflect the fact that its author was a man? Why or why not?
    • Enforced gender stereotypes, that women are weaker
    • When people think highly of women, it’s used as a reason not to corrupt them with power and rights because they’re so innocent and pure
  3. Is “The Woman Who Did” more a critique of marriage or a cautionary tale regarding the New Woman?
  4. To Showalter, was the idea of the New Woman actually a good thing for women?
    • Yes, it was progress, in that time period it was radical
  5. Drawing from this week’s readings, was motherhood a blessing or a burden for Victorian women?
    • It was seen as an expectation, and if they don’t meet it, they’re a failure
    • For daughters, the mother needed to take care of them until marriage, or else they end up badly
    • “I can’t commit suicide because I need to take care of the kids”
  6. Are there ways in which Allen or Caird hindered the progress of the Victorian Women’s Movement?
    • People may get turned off by excessively radical or extreme viewpoints
    • She is more evolutionary than revolutionary, and is constrained by Victorian views
  7. Which of Caird’s arguments would be considered outdated today? Which would be considered radical?
    • Confinement is no longer an issue because children can move out and live on their own
    • Having children without marriage still has a stigma (having a family without marriage, “why aren’t you married yet?”)
  8. For Allen, was Herminia’s martyrdom for the sake of the future woman justified? What would Caird or Showalter say? What do you think?
  9. Taken as a whole, do you think the primary source readings for this week broke down distinctions between public and private spheres, or reinforced them?
    • The anonymous letters showed aspects of privacy to the public, revealed information about marriage
    • Women talking about private sex-related topics to the public, which broke down the barrier between the two spheres
  10. For Victorian women, what was the relationship between sex, love, and freedom?
    • For Victorian women, it was almost impossible to see all three happening at the same time
    • In modern day, all three happen together often, and it is likely