Women in Collins

  • Philip O’Neill


Gail Cunningham’s profile of the representation of women in Victorian fiction is cogent and fair.1 She is particularly perceptive in her observation on Dickens. At first sight it appears that

Dickens is making out the argument found in many of the New Woman novels — that marriage is too often a sordid financial bargain, that women are forced to deck themselves out to attract the highest bidder and to go through the socially approved motions which are in essence shameful and degrading.2

Yet Cunningham argues that this view of marriage is actually denied in the plot. The sale of Edith to Mr Dombey, for example, ‘is designed primarily as an illustration of the novel’s main theme, the subordination of human affection to financial ambitions, and in the end, selflessness and generosity triumph sufficiently strongly to make the mercenaries appear as aberrations, rather than typical representatives of human conduct’.3 Dickens may well be typical of this projection in Victorian fiction but it is not a monopoly opinion. Collins is very aware of the stereotype in art and literature and while it can only be argued in part that he anticipates the feminist consciousness of the New Woman novelists, his treatment of women in his work makes it necessary to differentiate him from any notion of a uniform mainstream.


Female Character Natural Woman Sexual Passion Male Desire Feminist Consciousness 
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  1. 1.
    Gail Cunningham, The New Woman and the Victorian Novel ( Macmillan, London, 1978 ).Google Scholar
  2. 14.
    J. S. Mill, The Subjection of Women ( Everyman, London, 1965 ), p. 232.Google Scholar
  3. 16.
    E. Lynn Linton, ‘The Girl of the Period’, Saturday Review (14 Mar. 1868), pp. 339–40.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Philip O’Neill 1988

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  • Philip O’Neill

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