Great Expectations

9. How are female characters presented in the novel? What is the Victorian ideal of a woman? Do all female characters in the novel behave in accordance with this ideal? What happens if they don’t?


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The ideal Victorian woman is prim, proper, and probably has few of her opinions. She is idealized by men, but she is also subservient to those men. In general, female characters who do not behave in accordance with this ideal find themselves shunned, alienated, or even ostracized. The plight of a Victorian woman who does not "behave" is a common theme is plays and novels from this period.

The major female characters in Great Expectation are never going to receive awards for being the epitome of womanhood by any standards. Mrs. Joe is abusive (physically), Ms Havisham is abusive (mentally), and Estella has been both the victim and giver of abuse.

The minor female characters are portrayed as downright silly. Mrs. Hubble is giddy; Mr. Wopsle's great aunt is described as a "ridiculous old lady;" the Havisham relatives are unfeeling and greedy.

Lastly, we have Biddy, probably the most likeable female. She is loving, helpful, and loyal.

As you can see, Dickens doesn't portray many of the women in the most favorable light.


Great Expectations