A feminist reading of Doris Lessing’s ‘To Room Nineteen’ and ‘Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ by Robert Louis Stevenson using ideas discussed in ‘The Second Sex’ by Simone de Beauvoir.
The concept of Simone de Beauvoir’s myth of women discussed in ‘The Second Sex’ was still very much prevalent in the 1960s when ‘To Room nineteen’ was set and certainly at the time of ‘Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’. In the 1960s, in accordance with the second wave of feminism, women were thought to be more conscious and aware of their rights as a woman because of the media (Hanisch)1 and this is what we, as a reader could easily deduce from the beginning of Doris Lessing’s ‘To room nineteen’. This new- found consciousness however some would argue was not the case during the 1960s and is certainly not the case in the text. ‘The Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ is a male dominated thriller where female instabilities are never exposed as females are hardly ever mentioned (Shuo and Dan, 2012)2. This Victorian marginalization of women was very common at the time and also links to woman being classified, according to Simone de Beauvoir in ‘The Second Sex’ as the ‘Other’ (de Beauvoir, 1949 p. 16)3 and not worthy of being the subject of the novella. Both texts involve the notion of a demon taking over the main character, whether this demon is a result of their own creation or a result of society. The following essay will attempt to draw similarities and differences between the two texts in relation to Simone de Beauvoir’s ‘The Second Sex’.
‘The Second Sex’ is arguably one of the earliest attempts to tackle human history from a feminist perspective4 and expresses the idea that men fundamentally oppress women by characterizing them as the ‘Other’. It states, ‘the moment when man asserts himself as subject and a free being, the idea of ‘Other’ arises (de Beauvoir, 1949 p. 19). Although in ‘To Room Nineteen’ it would appear that both Susan and Matthew are making a joint, educated decision by Susan quitting her job to raise the children and tend to her house, it appears to be more of a decision according to social expectations instead of what Susan really wants. Without a second thought ‘Susan became pregnant […] gave up her job, and they bought a house in Richmond’. This sentence structurally is placed in the middle of a paragraph, not at the end or in a paragraph of it’s own. This would suggest that it is not a big decision that involves careful thought and planning but more something that was decided because it was the obvious decision. Susan made a ‘concession to popular decision’ or a decision that was implied by society to quit her job and a decision implied by society for Matthew to stay at work and earn an income to support the family. According to de Beauvoir, by Susan accepting her role as ‘Other’ this denies a great deal of her humanity thus culminating in her depression, hallucinations and eventual suicide.
In ‘Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ as there is a distinct lack of female characters, this would imply that the males have taken the role of the ‘subject’ (de Beauvoir, 1949 p. 19) and free being as the Victorian culture would dictate. This would naturally then make the very few female characters mentioned in the novella assume the role of the object; constrained by the dominant male characters and being a type of humble, counterpart to males 5. The first mention of a female in the novella is the little girl that gets trampled. Enfield describes this encounter as “natural” (Stevenson, 1886 p. 9), which we as an audience know would clearly not be the case. The way in which Enfield blindly denies that this encounter was no accident highlights the solidarity of men 6and accentuates their power over helpless female characters. The little girl doesn’t come to great harm however does depend on others to help her this is because she is the ‘other’ (de Beauvoir, 1949); she is essentially seen as...
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