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Roles of women in the Victorian times were very limited compared to now. They were expected to be house wives, and never expected to have an opinion or point of view. They were never in control of anything and everything was decided by men. They were usually expected to take care of everything in the house including looking after children. They were very much expected to be women whose life revolved around the domestic sphere of the home and family. However, this role was challenged by Queen Victoria
In the novel ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’ you see Bathsheba and Fanny breaking the norms expected from women in Victorian times. Sometimes these norm-breaking actions would result in a sever consequence depending on how bad the norm-breaking was. However, sometimes these limits which exist were ignored, but no penalty was paid. In chapter 42 Bathsheba opens the coffin in which Fanny and her baby lay. Here you can see an example of a woman crossing the barrier of what was expected from her, but no penalty being paid. She is very insecure as weather to open the coffin or leave it closed.
“If I could only look in upon you for one little minute I should know all” She finally does open the coffin and is slightly relieved that her tension and suspense has come to an end. “It was best to know the worst, and I know it now”. She is in a lot of pain, because she now knows that it was the women that Troy loved. She realises that it is his baby and is shocked when Troy says to her that he will never love her like he loved Fanny. Bathsheba also realises that Troy has slept with Fanny out of marriage, which was a very unacceptable action in Victorian times.
She does not wish to pursue or debate with Troy about what he has done, because there are risks of other people finding out and this would bring shame to her self-image. The consequences of Troy’s actions would mean that people would look at them badly and want nothing to do with them. In a way, Fanny paid the price for a highly thought sinful act, and through death. Many Victorian readers would’ve been shocked at Bathsheba’s actions when she opens the coffin and also with Troy’s actions. Bathsheba is obviously troubled and disturbed; otherwise she would never have opened the coffin.
You can see that she is showing her true emotions and in Victorian times women never showed their true emotions. Bathsheba’s actions for opening the coffin would not have been a very severe punishment but would be frowned upon by many Victorians. In chapter 13, the expected roles of women are transgressed when Bathsheba and Liddy play the game of the Bible and key. “Did you ever find out, miss, who you are going to marry by means of the Bible and key? ” Many Victorian women would think it a very foolish game to play, therefore, not expected from women.
This chapter is an example of a woman crossing the barrier of her expected role, but nothing happening and therefore no consequence. In chapter 11, fanny pays a visit to Troy; however, she travels a very long distance to do this. It was very unusual in Victorian times and nowadays that a woman should travel for miles and miles by foot to visit their loved ones. This wasn’t considered very lady-like, and was looked as desperate. It could also have been seen as chasing him around, therefore not being a proper Lady.
To make matters worse, Troy dismisses her abruptly which shows a lot of disrespect for Fanny. But Fanny doesn’t acknowledge this and we can see that she is a weak character. “There was a tone in the woman which is not that of the wife, and there was a manner in the man which is rarely a husband”. Fanny’s actions may also have come down to her social class. Her ways of thinking may have also been completely different to that of an upper class. However, the boundaries of what was expected from women was the same throughout social class. But some may have broken these boundaries with no consequence.
You can see now that if the boundaries are taken too far the consequences are drastic and sever. However, sometimes they are ignored or they are hidden. Fanny ignored these boundaries and paid the penalty. Bathsheba did step over the line, but never did ignore the extreme limitations. The women in the novel are defined by how they are seen to everyone else. Some Victorian women would not abide by the rules that were set for them, and some would, either out of fear of what would happen to them if they didn’t or they didn’t want to feel sinful.