“Something Over and Beyond”: Victorian Women, Marriage and Independence in Anthony Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her?
Anthony Trollope’s novel, Can You Forgive Her? offers a profound insight into a literary portrayal of Victorian femininity. The literary heroines in the novel (including Alice and Kate Vavasor, Arabella Greenow and Glencora Palliser) not only confront their hopes and ambitions with the principles of nineteenth-century society, but also offer an apt reflection on the universal notion of womanhood as incessantly suspended between and shaped by both social expectations and individual desires. I argue that Can You Forgive Her? offers a fully-fledged, multifaceted, literary vision of the Victorian woman, with her desires, dreams, fears and longings reaching beyond the nineteenth-century expectations concerning her supposedly idealised, domestic life. I also posit that the creation of Trollope’s complex literary heroines was indirectly influenced by the three significant women of his life: his mother, Frances Trollope; his wife, Rose Heseltine; and his young American acquaintance, Kate Field. This influence is specifically discernible in Can You Forgive Her?, as Trollope’s female characters strive for independence and personal fulfilment while, at the same time, they fear potential loneliness on the one hand and patriarchal tyranny on the other. The influence of Mrs. Trollope, Rose Heseltine, and Kate Field is also visible in the formation of Trollope’s general views on women’s placement in society: as a progressive conservative, he ardently advocated women’s independence, while simultaneously believing that the ultimate female fulfilment was to be found predominantly in the traditional domestic context. Finally, while drawing on Virginia Woolf’s concept of “a room of one’s own,” I introduce an idea of an empathetic “New Man” represented in Trollope’s novel by the “victorious” male characters: John Grey and Plantagenet Palliser. Capable of reinventing themselves and becoming involved in the domestic sphere, Grey and Palliser succeed in bringing their female partners back into their lives, at the same allowing them to thrive in the metaphorical “room of their own.” Eventually, through their empathetic behaviour, the “New Men” in Trollope’s novel are capable of securing personal fulfilment and happiness of the female protagonists.
"“Something Over and Beyond”: Victorian Women, Marriage and Independence in Anthony Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her?,"
Journal of International Women's Studies: Vol. 24:
5, Article 20.
Available at: https://vc.bridgew.edu/jiws/vol24/iss5/20