Gender and Cultural Forms

  • Simon Dentith
Part of the Social History in Perspective book series (SHP)


I have described gender as one of the great faultlines of nineteenth-century cultural history. In this the history of the period is no different from that of any other century or culture, for social and cultural differentiation along the line of gender is one of the universals of human history What is special to the nineteenth century, however, is the prominence of that differentiation, and the prominence of the explicit efforts to alter its terms. Appropriate and inappropriate behaviour for women and men was the subject of intense and prolonged debate, with constant redrawings and redefinitions of the gender line, and increasingly confident challenges to the proscriptions and limitations placed upon women. Feminism, after all, is the invention of the nineteenth century, though conflict between the sexes, of course, is not. However, this chapter will not be centrally concerned with feminism, even in its cultural manifestations. Rather, it will seek to suggest the ways in which cultural forms themselves encode assumptions about gender. But this is to put the matter too neutrally. For gender differentiation is in large part a matter of culture — that is, the very ways in which people understand their own and others’ sexuality and its implications for behaviour are partly determined in the sphere of culture. So the gender assumptions that are encoded in cultural forms of all kinds are not the reflections of realities of gender differentiation that exist elsewhere, but are themselves those realities.


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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall, Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class 1780–1850 (Hutchinson, London, 1987), p. 319.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See below, Chapter 7, pp. 171–2. For the general contrast between ‘adventure fiction’ and domestic realism, see Martin Green, Dreams of Adventure, Deeds of Empire (Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1980).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Alfred Tennyson, The Princess, in The Poems of Tennyson, edited by Christopher Ricks (Longman, London, 1969), pp. 741–844, p. 806.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Ibid., pp. 814–15.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh (Tauchnitz, Leipzig, 1872), p. 21.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Ibid., p. 171.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    The Poems of Arthur Hugh Clough, edited by F. L. Mulhauser (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1974), p. 52.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Ibid., p. 82.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    George Meredith, ‘Modern Love’, in Poems I (Archibald, Constable and Co., Westminster, 1898), p. 27.Google Scholar
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    Robert Browning, Poetical Works, 1833–1864 (Oxford University Press, London, 1970), pp. 567–8.Google Scholar
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    Christina Rossetti, Selected Poems, edited by C. H. Sisson (Carcanet, Manchester, 1984), pp. 92–3.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    The Poems of Coventry Patmore, edited by Frederick Page (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1949), p. 62.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Ibid., p. 138.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Judith R. Walkowitz, City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London (Virago, London, 1992).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Elaine Showalter, Sexual Anarchy (Bloomsbury, London, 1991).Google Scholar
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    Beatrice Webb, My Apprenticeship, with an introduction by Norman MacKenzie (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1979), p. 179.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Simon Dentith 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Simon Dentith

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