The Individual and Society in 19th England

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The nineteenth century was a time of significant upheaval, embodied by individuals challenging the institutions of the Victorian era and striving to achieve self determination. The conflicting relationship between the individual and society becomes apparent through analysing the individual’s confrontation with the orthodox economic and philosophical Victorian paradigms. Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel, North and South (1855), Richard Redgrave’s painting The Outcast (1851) and Ada Nield Chew’s letter A living Wage for Factory Girls at Crewe (1894) critique the dominant attitudes of society, emphasising the importance of the individual to seek autonomy for social progression to occur as well as self satisfaction.

Elizabeth Gaskell reflects the dominant philosophical ideology of patriarchy and gender dominance in Victorian society through her Bildungsroman novel North and South (1855). Margaret’s characterisation symbolises the confinement of individuals, especially females, Gaskell describing “a sense of indescribable weariness of all the arrangements…oppressed her [Margaret] just now”. The aural effect created by the use of dilatory works is exigent in itself whilst the use of “indescribable” compounds the extent to which Margaret feels burdened by the social expectations to indulge in the “prettiness” of the wedding. Gaskell acclaims Margaret to seek autonomy through portraying her interests to subvert the social dictums of conversation, “she was glad when the gentlemen came…because she could listen to something larger and grander.” The assonance of “larger and grander” alludes to Margaret’s ebullience of male discussion. Gaskell reveals that Margaret gains self satisfaction through subverting her role the domestic sphere, commented as being “their sphere of action was at their own firesides” by Sarah Ellis in her essay, The Women of England (1839). Furthermore, Gaskell commends Margaret’s self determination through juxtaposition, describing “Fanny had returned,...
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