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Thomas Hardy’s tragic novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles and George Bernard Shaw’s comedy play Pygmalion both highlight the treatment of women during the Victorian Era – however, they both use different genre and style to explore this. The injustice towards women is clearly highlighted by Tess’s famous quote “Whip me, crush me; … I shall not cry out. Once victim, always victim–that’s the law!
” This clearly demonstrates Hardy’s view of women being victimized by men and this is a view also taken by Shaw; he highlights this in his play through the ill treatment of Eliza by Higgins “A woman who utters such depressing and disgusting sounds has no right to be anywhere – no right to live”. Many Victorian readers were horrified at the author’s feminist views as they thought it was natural that men treated women as inferiors and were shocked at the authors for sympathizing with their female protagonist. The Victorian attitude that women were subservient to the man comes from the biblical view that Eve was made from a part of Adam.
Hardy and Shaw’s views refer form the Darwinian view of species which does not place men above woman which caused controversy within the Victorians. Hardy and Shaw give a sympathetic presentation of their female protagonist in order to make their hardships seem worse. Tess is descried as a simple country girl who is eager to learn about life “she has full zest of life willing to learn” she is continuously described by Hardy as beautiful “Holmberry lips”, “Flower like mouth”, “beautiful white hart “and “virginally white”.
Hence we feel sympathetic towards her when she has to work at Flintcomb – Ash, where the “stubborn soil” and “stony lachets” make working condition very horrific. Shaw describes Eliza as “not all a romantic figure” to highlight that this is the consequences of her living conditions; she lives in “a small room with very old wall paper hanging loose in the damp places” the only “visible luxuries: a wretched bed heaped with all sorts of coverings” which makes us feel sympathetic towards her. Shaw demonstrates the change of appearance in Eliza after she has been living with Higgins.
After she has been washed, Shaw highlights her beauty “impression… remarkable distinction and beauty” commenting on the fact now she has better living conditions her beauty can be seen; this is also visible in act three though the stage direction in Mrs. Higgins house “such remarkable distinction and beauty as she enters that they all rise , quite fluttered”. As I said above in the Victorian era women were usually seen as subordinate to men, they were regarded as men’s property. Shaw portrays this by using Eliza’s father as a good example; Mr.
Doolittle says “this girl belongs to me” and decides to “sell” her to Higgins for “five pounds not a penny more or less”. The dialogue used by Eliza’s father might be presented in a humorous manner; however, its impact on the reader is more effective as they see the harsh living conditions and treatment Eliza has to face. Eliza is effectively sold by her father to Higgins, “Well, whats a five-pound note to you? And whats Eliza to me? ” she knows nothing about it- Shaw stresses the fact women were innocent and were used by men just to provide some money.
They did not have a right to revolt as they had no control over the male figures in their lives. In Pygmalion no harm comes to Eliza even thought she is “sold” this is because Shaw’s keeping in mind that the play is light heart and comedy. The idea of “selling” their daughter is also is clear in Tess when Joan Durberfield dresses Tess up in her “Sunday best” when Alec is meant to come and collect her. Joan does this in hopes of Tess attracting Alec and they would get married which would be ideal for the families’ economical situation.
Hardy points out this desperation to highlight the fact it was not just men who “sold” their daughters; there were also women who had to use their daughter’s beauty as a weapon for money and attraction towards men “Her mother’s pride in the girl’s appearance led her to step back like a painter from his easel, and survey her work as a whole”. Even though Joan does this with affection there are deeper motives involved Hardy clearly use this to show that this novel is a tragedy and this selling will have terrible consequences in Tess’s life.
Shaw and Hardy also clearly portray women as the “puppets” or “dolls” who are easily used by men and are not allowed to be in control of their own actions and destiny. Higgins views Eliza as an experiment, “Yes, by George: it’s the most absorbing experiment I ever tackled. ” Shaw states that Eliza is nothing more than a live doll without a mind of her own “you certainly are a pretty pair of babies playing with your live doll. ” She is still a lifeless statue with an element of crudeness in her parrot-like conversation “She’s to keep to two subjects: …
– and not let herself go on things in general”. Shaw demonstrates that merely fine clothes and the right accent are not sufficient to make a lady. Eliza’s accomplishments are artificial as stated by Higgins “no more artificial duchesses”. As Mrs. Higgins astutely proclaims, Eliza is simply “a triumph of Higgins art and of her dressmaker’s”. Hardy relates this in Alec’s treatment of Tess during their first meeting, Tess is some what dazzled by Alec charm, “as he spoke, in a way that made her blush a little” and he takes advantage of that.
Tess is looking for a job because she feels responsible for her families’ misfortune “Well, as I killed the horse, mother, she said mournfully, I suppose I ought to do something. ” therefore goes to ask Alec for help. He realizes this and manipulates her until she seems to be “in an abstracted half- hypnotized state” and the “kiss of mastery” highlights that fact Tess is continuously controlled by Alec. Hardy and Shaw highlight the paradox that men blame women for their beauty and attraction and criticise men for then failing to accept responsibility for their actions.
Hardy clearly portrays this by the use of Alec. He blames Tess for being the cause of his downfall saying that she has cast “a spell on me with your beauty” Alec later also states that “That’s what every woman says” after he has raped her complaining about the fact all women say no but they mean the opposite. Shaw shows these themes through his play mostly as comedy however their impact upon the reader is very immense as they understand the deeper meaning of it.
It’s clearly highlighted by Eliza repeating the phrase “I am a good girl I am” to reflect the fact she not a prostitute and she is “pure” even though she works as a “flower girl” makes us feel sympathetic towards Eliza as she continuously has to defend herself. This issue of purity is also visible in Hardy’s Tess as he comments on the beliefs of the Victorian era and as an omniscient narrator gives his book the sub-title “Pure women” thus asking the Victorian reader what is pure? Similarly Shaw highlights the irony of his book through the sub-title “A Romance in five acts” as Higgins and Eliza’s story is nothing to do with romance.
Although both women suffer real hardship both Hardy and Shaw use their reaction to those to hardship to further strengthen the feminist stance of both texts. Tess and Eliza are shown very independent and want to control their own life. They clearly do not regard the social rules inflicted upon them by the male characters within their life as morally right. Tess usurps the male power of judgment. The law will not protect her from rape or redress the wrong has been done, or punishes the rapist, or give her back her child or her lost virtue.
She takes the law into her own hands and punishes the offender, as she took Christianity into her own hands to get her dying baby into heaven. But Tess’ hands are a woman’s hands and within the era they would have been seen as incapable to administer sacraments and they are not supposed to administer justice – so her death is inevitable. Similarly Eliza, who would never have been a “lady” if she was a “flower girl” to start off with, she clearly highlight to Higgins that “… the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she’s treated” telling him that his treatment it’s the reason why she is leaving him.
The independence of both women helps them decide their own future and so in the end they both accept the problems or consequences they will face as Eliza states “I sold flowers. I didn’t sell myself. Now you’ve made a lady of me I’m not fit to sell anything else. ” Although both female protagonists do not particularly have a ending they desire nevertheless they both have been in control of their own actions and have created their own destiny, enabling, Hardy and Shaw to end their work on a more feminist assertive note.