An exploration of Oscar Wilde's presentation of women in 'A Woman of No Importance' in comparison to John Fowles' views of women in 'The French Lieutenant's Woman', in light of the view that Oscar Wilde has a more sympathetic view of woman in his time.
In this essay I will be comparing Oscar Wilde's play 'A Woman of No Importance' to John Fowles' novel 'The French Lieutenant's Woman'. I will be exploring their differing views of woman in Victorian society. Generally, woman were viewed as inferior to men, yet Wilde shows compassion for them in his writing, this can be seen through his kindness to Mrs Arbuthnot towards the end of the play. However, John Fowles, although much darker in his presentation of woman, portrays Sarah Woodruff as someone to be pitied and sympathized with, while using spiteful characters such as Mrs Poulteney to emphasize the virtue of others. Perhaps Fowles' darker presentation of woman is because he is comparing 1960's women to the 'purer' 1890's women.
In the play 'A Woman of No Importance' Wilde presents woman to be fickle in nature and expresses typical Victorian views towards 'outcast' women. An example of this is the refined, upper class Lady Caroline's snide comment to Lady Hunstanton about Mrs Allonby's questionable activities with men other than her husband 'Is that the only thing, Jane, Mrs Allonby allows to run away with her?' There is a strong innuendo placed around the words 'run away' Wilde uses Lady Caroline's out-spoken nature as a medium to mock and convey harsh Victorian morals and standards expected of woman in Victorian society. He clearly shows how social/moral outcasts are scorned by Lady Caroline, a member of English aristocracy who will castrate any questionable woman in fear of being associated with them. The same is typical for Sarah Woodruff in Fowles' 'French Lieutenant's Woman' Ernestina, a rich merchant's daughter who wants to climb up societies ladder through Charles, immediately shows discontent towards Woodruff as she stands as an outcast or a 'ruined woman' in their society 'She is... A little mad. Let us turn. I don't like to go near her'. Fowles immediately presents Ernestina's unsympathetic view to stir the readers thoughts and feelings of the reader to sympathize with Sarah's situation.
Similarly, Wilde also uses Hester to convey the harsh views about women who have sinned 'If you met them in the street you would turn your head away.' Wilde uses this raw, emotive language to show how those in Victorian Society with strong moral views would ignore those below them. However, I think that Wilde uses Hester in this regard because she is young and naïve. Towards the beginning of the play he places Hester's view to be very 'puritan' and against anything viewed 'wrong' in the eyes of god. 'Let them both be branded' – The word 'branded' is used to convey the pain which women who have sinned were expected to endure in hell for their misconduct in life. Towards the end, however, he paints a much more sympathetic view through Hester's eyes with her acceptance and even love of Mrs. Arbuthnot's sin 'You cannot honour me, unless she's holier to you. In her all womanhood is martyred.' - By stating Mrs Arbuthnot as a 'Martyr' Hester is showing great respect and admiration, as Mrs Arbuthnot is being seen as a sacrifice for a needed change in society's view. She uses heavily religious terms to save the woman rather than condemning her. By showing this young character's view change so dramatically Wilde shows how woman should be loved and sympathised with for their pains and troubles throughout life – not placed on an alter of shame. Also to be noted is the fact Lady Caroline is not featured in the end of the play. So although Wilde shows a changing view he neglects the characters who would have most likely disagreed with Hester and shunned Mrs. Arbuthnot. This amplifies the juxtaposition of the play, at the beginning there was only negativity thrown towards...
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