The Victorian Man: Re-defining and Re-negotiating Masculinity in Brontë and Gaskell
A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Liberal Arts, Department of English Literature, College of Arts and Sciences, University of South Florida St. Petersburg, November, 03, 2014.
The subject of this thesis is to investigate the representation of contrasting patterns of strong versus weak masculinity during Britain's Industrial Revolution in three Victorian novels by women writers, specifically Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre (1848), Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights (1847), and Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South (1854). Charlotte Brontë identifies and tames the masculinity in her Byronic hero in favor of a Victorian man who is gentler in nature and whose characteristics still possess masculinity and manliness as viewed by social conventions, but who also considers his wife an equal. Brontë challenges the traditional masculine and dominant ideologies which existed within society, whilst remaining within the boundaries of Victorian perception. Furthermore, Emily Brontë refuses to support traditional male Victorian conventions, and exposes and eradicates her Byronic brute hero in favor of a Victorian male whose masculinity represents the fortitude of kindness and compassion. Finally, she shows the realignment of power between men from different social classes within Britain. Elizabeth Gaskell exposes the conflicts and issues of masculinity within the southern and northern England class divide in the Victorian era. Gaskell stresses the importance of the emergence of the new self-made middle class man and his masculinity. This study shows that the Brontë sisters and Gaskell recognized the emergence of new styles of masculinity, brought on in part by the socio-economic problems and unrest caused by the iii rapid acceleration of Britain's Industrial Revolution, which led to the rise of the middle-class and the decline of the upper-class. These women writers have a unique perspective on the masculinity issue, as they were progressive women who lived within a patriarchal society and were not afraid to voice their opinions through the construction of their male protagonists and their masculinity.