Q&A with V.R. Christensen discussion

Of Moths and Butterflies
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Marriage, sex and the distribution of money in the Victorian era.

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message 1: by V.R. (last edited Feb 19, 2012 12:09PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

V.R. Christensen (vrchristensen) | 18 comments Mod
Before the Married Women's property act of 1882 (which went into effect January 1883) a woman who married could keep only her portable goods, no money, no income made off of property owned. She could maintain ownership of real estate, but it could produce no money and could not be sold. The inequality of education of the sexes is another issue that plays into the complexity of Imogen Everard's plight. Men knew very well what the world was about. Women were trained to be innocents. It was her husband's right and privilege to educate her. These two injustices together made it possible for a man to impose his legal rights and his immoral will upon a woman to her absolute degradation.

It's my purpose in my novels to draw parallels to today's society. Clearly this is one instance where times have changed very drastically for the better. But things are not entirely well between the sexes even now. Those former injustices still make me red. But so do those that go on now, though they are far subtler.

What issues in Historical Fiction get your dander up? Which ones need more attention today? If you had been bought by a man with legal and physical power over you, would you have behaved as Imogen had done? Would you have submitted? Or would you have rebelled?


V.R. Christensen (vrchristensen) | 18 comments Mod
I need to read up on her. My inspiration came mainly from fictional sources, such as The Age of Innocence and Tess of the D'Urbervilles and The Aristocrats, and...I have to think. It's really an amalgamation of a lot of other works.

The whole subject of prostitution sort of can be linked to this, too. Because a man who had to marry for money, had certain 'needs' to fulfill, and which male society allowed him, provided he was discreet. But what about the women? I maintain that, whatever a woman's rights, no one aspires to be a prostitute. How did it begin? Well, an unsuspecting woman (usually, though granted not always) got in a bit over her head with a fella. Not having been taught what happens, and he knowing very well what he's doing, and not thinking (or caring) about the consequences to her, takes advantage of her. And then what? If she manages to keep it a secret, is not emotionally destroyed by the encounter and does not get pregnant, she might go on as almost normal. But if not... If anyone found out, if she got pregnant, if she confessed...out she goes. And how is she to support herself now?

Of course there is the issue of Society's judgment. Which is another discussion in its entirety. If someone does not conform to the canons of society, should they be shunned from it? To me that goes against Christian principles, but... as I said, that's possibly a discussion for another thread.


V.R. Christensen (vrchristensen) | 18 comments Mod
Yes, I have that too. Haven't read it yet.

I do believe that the Victorian sentiment of self improvement was the key factor to their success as a civilisation, so many discoveries made, so much innovation. But it was the strictness of the codes that eventually made them the caricatures we see them as. In many ways, I think they were really on the right track. But war derails the best of intentions and realigns priorities. So sad to think of so many lives wasted, that sense of 'what was the point of it?" And yet, what choice had they?

I fear I've digressed.


message 4: by Richard (new)

Richard Sutton (richardsutton) | 1 comments One of the things I find most interesting about the Victorian eras, both in the UK and here in the USA, was the over-arching, cultural feeling of achievement and enlightenment despite the reality of the inequity of the period. Women, of course were marginalized, but so were working people, whose sweat allowed the scions of wealth their drawing room soirees... and their belief they were the titans of a new, better world. So similar to where we are now. Not very encouraging, but great literary fodder. One of my very favorite books dealing especially with the economic realities in industrialization, is the Leon Uris masterwork, Trinity. One of its main themes is the self-delusion among the ruling classes as Northern Ireland was industrialized. Even if you're a staunch believer in Unity, the economic discussion alone is worth reading the book for.


V.R. Christensen (vrchristensen) | 18 comments Mod
That sounds really interesting. I will add that to my reading list. Thanks for the suggestion.

I guess I'm really torn, because obviously I love the era or I wouldn't spend so much time in it, but obviously too, there are things that really tick me off about it. I do miss gentlemen as gentlemen. I suppose you could point out the hipocricies, but I'm not sure being loose and free with our immorality is really the best way either. But there were really good people, who worked very hard to make the world a better place. I suppose it's the same way now.

Then there's the elegance of language and dress. Not very practical for texting and working out, but hey, it's still fun.

I think what I miss most is the idea that people are expected to be good and kind and decent. Not that they always succeeded, but maybe more often than we do today. Maybe.


message 6: by K.P. (new)

K.P. Vorenberg | 2 comments Recently, I was privileged to participate in a book club meeting where my book had been chosen for discussion. One of the most interesting moments occurred when a lovely woman expressed shock at the violent treatment of women in a few scenes of my book.

I gently reminded her that it was an unfortunate practice of that period, the late 1890s.

Have you read any of Edith Wharton's books?

Kathy


V.R. Christensen (vrchristensen) | 18 comments Mod
Yes. There is an idea expressed in The Age of Innocence that really catalyzed me to make it a theme in each of the books that Captive Press has, excluding the novelette, that was sort of an unexpected thing. This is Archer (yes, I borrowed the name from here) thinking about May, watching her while they're at a party. They are already engaged.

"She was straightforward, loyal and brave; she had a sense of humour (chiefly proved by her laughing at HIS jokes); and he suspected, in the depths of her innocently-gazing soul, a glow of feeling that it would be a joy to waken. But when he had gone the brief round of her he returned discouraged by the thought that all this frankness and innocence were only an artificial product. Untrained human nature was not frank and innocent; it was full of the twists and defences of an instinctive guile. And he felt himself oppressed by this creation of factitious purity, so cunningly manufactured by a conspiracy of mothers and aunts and grandmothers and long-dead ancestresses, because it was supposed to be what he wanted, what he had a right to, in order that he might exercise his lordly pleasure in smashing it like an image made of snow."

As I said, this passage influenced all three books, Of Moths and Butterflies, Cry of the Peacock (Oct 2012), and Gods and Monsters (release date yet undetermined) but I address it in very different ways. I think it makes for great storytelling, but I also see it as an unfortunate biproduct of the era.


V.R. Christensen (vrchristensen) | 18 comments Mod
It's kind of motivating, isn't it? But I've been thinking...I'm not a flaming feminist. I mean, if I were really honest, I might be, but... the thing is, what I love about these novels is when men and women learn to get on with eachother, to respect eachother and work together. I feel like we're more at odds now than we were before. Ugh. Sorry. It's been a long day.

But yes, I thought it was kind of a profound statement, but I think it typifies the era in many ways. When you consider that Imogen's 'image in snow' is already broken, what does that do to her value as a woman? Hence her attitude toward herself.


message 9: by B. (last edited Feb 19, 2012 06:38AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

B. Lloyd (authorsanon) | 5 comments V.r. wrote: "Before the Married Women's property act of 1872 (which went into effect January 1883) a woman who married could keep only her portable goods, no money, no income made off of property owned. She cou..."

I meant to keep up with these. I have fallen behind ! My pennyworth :
I think the whole question of property laws is much more complex than is often portrayed by novels, films, etc. It’s written up by lawyers, after all. If parents were foresighted enough, they could try, through wills and marriage contracts, to ensure that the husband could not lay a hand on the wife’s property – this too has cropped up as plot material in occasional novels; entails and life interests and so on. Wilkie Collins took a particular interest in these problems and the situation of women; a woman’s plight often lies at the core of his plots.
As for opportunities to work : a neat summary of work opportunities from BBC History site (http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/...) (with some interesting photos; I like the one of the hat factory workers!)- excerpt :
“Domestic service of all kinds was the single largest employer of women (40 per cent of female occupations stated in the census of 1851 in provincial cities and 50 per cent in London). The textile and clothing sectors came a close second. Women were also found in large numbers in metalwares and pottery and in a variety of petty trades, especially in towns: confectionery, brewing and other provisioning, seamstressing, laundry work, cleaning and retailing. Because many sectors which employed large numbers of women were concentrated in certain regions of the country (as with the cotton and woollen industries of south Lancashire and west Yorkshire), the statistics of female labour force participation varied across the country.”
Money was key. Status was everything. (Does that sound much different from many areas of society today ?)Men and women with money had(have) independence; it was possible to do things unthinkable for those less well off.
It came down to being prosperous and respectable: this was the final aspiration. It wasn’t so unlikely to find a huge range of jobs carried out by women, who ended up running businesses after their husbands died and so on.
Apart from working in service, for those who had education there was the position of governess to be considered (and again, Anne Bronte left behind her account of the misery and drudgery that could befall, based on personal experience).
There were businesswomen, landladies, traders, innkeepers, seamstresses and factory workers as well as the brothel keepers and successful courtesans. There was the theatre and there was nursing – both often associated with ‘easy morals’.
And just how many of the above would have made it to the tea parties at grand houses ? A few of them did – Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde and Charles Dickens give edgily entertaining insights into what could and did happen in High Society.

The strictures of society were many – but at the same time, the desire to discover and explore was even stronger – so we have among others, women explorers like Mary Kingsley, or travellers like Lady Florence Dixie (nee Douglas), also a war correspondent among other things, and Mary Slessor, a lone missionary working in Nigeria. What most of these individuals had in common was – personal wealth.

We are told this kind of independent behaviour was not considered ‘suitable’ or ‘appropriate’ at the time– and yet it went on, and Mary Kingsley’s books for example were a huge success.

It’s a complete mish-mash, awash with contrasts and contradictions – and as money became more accessible (the dustman’s rise to fortune in Our Mutual Friend is a pretty illustration of the kind of thing that could happen) so the barriers were changed, battered, thrown up into the air. It’s a huge heaving mass of humanity,that has inspired and continues to intrigue and inspire today. Perhaps because of the contrasts with today – perhaps too because of the similarities . . . Society was and is in constant flux.
Money tied up in property and law – there was the rub; still a problem today, where you end up with millionaires signing pre-nuptial agreements. So in many ways, wide apart yet still the same. Both exhilarating and depressing. “Are we evolving at all?”, we cry . We might be turning into blobs with no feet, as we shall lose the need for them, stuck behind computer screens . . .:P

(oops, hope this isn't too long! Shall I shorten it ? :))(Oh, and my bustle is very comfortably arranged, thank you most kindly !)


message 10: by V.R. (new) - rated it 5 stars

V.R. Christensen (vrchristensen) | 18 comments Mod
So glad you're comfy Miss B. Do have some tea and scones.... Clotted cream? Why yes! Ah, you are so right. It is far more complex. Collins dealt a bit with the codiciles and trusts etc that were supposed to keep a woman's money safe (but rarely did) and showed how it was all gotten at anyway, or ought to have been, because a good and dutiful wife would never deny her husband. That book makes me so mad! Oh, pardon my manners.

The rest you wrote of...YES! That's why I love delving into it still. Because it was so complex and I think the average person's understanding of it has more to do with stereotypes and caricatures than with what really went on. Money changed everything. Imogen, without money, hadn't a chance in the world. But that money was also a curse, because it offered the opportunity for others to use her in similar ways. However, it saves her in a way, too. She could never have found respectability without it. Not really.

I noticed, when you quoted my intro, that I had mistyped the 1882 property act as 1872. My mistake.

I'm reading Loretta Proctor's The Crimson Bed, and I'm hoping to invite her over for a Q&A. She addresses some of these issues in her book, too.

Very interesting stuff.


message 11: by B. (new) - rated it 5 stars

B. Lloyd (authorsanon) | 5 comments V.r. wrote: "So glad you're comfy Miss B. Do have some tea and scones.... Clotted cream? Why yes! Ah, you are so right. It is far more complex. Collins dealt a bit with the codiciles and trusts etc that were su..."

CLotted cream . . and jam. Raspberry, or blackcurrant, if you have . . .
I was puzzled by the dates, cos the 1870 act actually allowed women to hang on to money they earned (although still a little vague re property)but yes, movement was ongoing to make changes.
Still, hardly surprising that some women who had money deliberately chose to stay single, thereby keeping hold of it.There was a lot at stake.
Re Wilkie Collins : "No Name" : this novel goes very much into the business of property for illegitimate children - he was often accused of writing merely sensationalist stuff, but he portrayed some highly individual heroines, and Magda is no exception; red-headed, bold, resourceful, a gifted mimic, she is empowered in his fiction in a way females in Dickens rarely were; by contrast, he actually dares to show female character and individuality (even if at times he concedes to public opinion - well, he had to sell his stuff, after all . . ). I like him for his adventurous style,someone who challenged a lot of what was happening in society, both in his writing and in his private life.
(Those scones were jolly good, by the way . . .got any more ?)


message 12: by V.R. (new) - rated it 5 stars

V.R. Christensen (vrchristensen) | 18 comments Mod
There were a series of acts, all of them starting out the similarly when they hit parliament, but then, once the MP's had their way with it, it was all so watered down it was hardly a victory it at all. so I always just refer to the 1882 one, as that's the only one that actually did anyone enough good to matter. There were the widows acts before, which was great if you didn't marry again, but hardly helpful to the average woman.

I need to read "No Name". You suggested that to me once before and I actually bought it with that intention. It would probably have been helpful in working through the intricacies of what Sir Edmund could and could not do, or could and could not threaten to do by way of Wyndham and subsequently little Charlie.

I think that's why I like Collins. He seems to be a truly fair person. His treatment of, forgive me, I can't remember his name, but the father in The Woman in White, and how he treated his servants. "That is not a footman, that is a book stand. Why ever would you suppose it is anything other than a bookstand." Clearly he was trying to make a point there. I like Hardy, too, for similar reasons, though he's more heavy handed in his didacticism.

Oh, yes. I'm so glad you asked. Mrs. Pritchet has just finished a new batch. Currant jam, did you say? I'll open a fresh pot.


message 13: by B. (new) - rated it 5 stars

B. Lloyd (authorsanon) | 5 comments V.r. wrote: "There were a series of acts, all of them starting out the similarly when they hit parliament, but then, once the MP's had their way with it, it was all so watered down it was hardly a victory it at..."

Yums. (Licks chops greedily)
It was their uncle Frederick; cracks me up; Ian Richardson does/did him brilliantly in both tv versions.
(Burps genteelly and reaches out paw for extra large scone) #KittensLikeLargerPortions #NomNom


message 14: by V.R. (last edited Feb 23, 2012 12:19PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

V.R. Christensen (vrchristensen) | 18 comments Mod
Do you mean The Woman in White? I can find it, I think. It's quite funny.

I was in no humour for trifling, and I resolved to make him understand what I meant.

"Oblige me by giving that man permission to withdraw," I said, pointing to the valet.

Mr. Fairlie arched his eyebrows and pursed up his lips in sarcastic surprise.

"Man?" he repeated. "You provoking old Gilmore, what can you possibly mean by calling him a man? He's nothing of the sort. He might have been a man half an hour ago, before I wanted my etchings, and he may be a man half an hour hence, when I don't want them any longer. At present he is simply a portfolio stand. Why object, Gilmore, to a portfolio stand?"



message 15: by B. (new) - rated it 5 stars

B. Lloyd (authorsanon) | 5 comments V.r. wrote: "Do you mean The Woman in White? I can find it, I think. It's quite funny.

I was in no humour for trifling, and I resolved to make him understand what I meant.

"Oblige me by giving that man permis..."


Yup! That's the bunny! :D :D


message 16: by V.R. (new) - rated it 5 stars

V.R. Christensen (vrchristensen) | 18 comments Mod
It's a wonderful piece of characterisation.


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