Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 36 (2005) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/
Adopting the' 1st Gent's' maxim from the epigraph to chapter ten of Eliot's Daniel Deronda: 'Our daughters must be wives and to be wives must be what men will choose:/ Men's taste is women's test [ ....] ‘, Britta Zangen sets out to test the accuracy of this epigram throughout the Victorian period. The book is ambitious in scope, placing analysis of the marriageable woman in the complete works of Dickens, Eliot, and Hardy, within a thorough socio-historical framework which details shifting attitudes to the Woman Question from the 1840s to the 1890s. These weighty sections of historical 'context' are perhaps the most successful element of the study, providing an invaluable starting point for scholars of Victorian conceptions of femininity. Here Zangen combines a wealth of secondary sources with some primary material to come up with such gems as her observation of the paradox of 'conduct-books': 'The role now expected from women does not seem to come as naturally as the writers of manuals would have it. The fact that they wrote such manuals at all testifies to the opposite' (p. 46). Similarly, effective is the inclusion of publication details and readership figures for each author, facilitating valuable comparison of their immediate popular success. Zangen's historical framework suffers, however, from an overly simplistic conception of separate spheres (undermined in the last decade by figures like Amanda Vickery, who is uncited here) and patriarchy. Zangen too often pits resistant women against a singular conception of 'the men' (p. 18), omitting acknowledgement of the diversity of Victorian masculinities fissured along lines of class and sexuality, amply discussed by recent critics such as Herbert Sussman, Martin Francis, and John Tosh (none of whom is referenced). On the penultimate page Zangen finally hints that images of appropriate masculinity may have proved similarly constraining, but this does little to redress the book's dominant conception of 'the men' as a monolithic oppressive mass (p. 352).