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Examine how the women in two stories are treated by the men in their lives
Two short fiction stories which show how women are treated by the men in their lives are The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion and Weekend. The first story is a pre-1914 story called ‘The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion’ and it is written by Thomas Hardy. The story is set in 1801 and it was published in 1891.The other story is a more modern story as it is set in the late twentieth century and was published in 1981. It is called ‘Weekend’ and it is written by a feminist writer called Fay Weldon.
The main theme of The Melancholy of the German Legion is how a woman is treated with little independence and how the main female character, Phyllis Grove, tries to find her own freedom by forming a strong friendship with a German soldier that escalates into a relationship. Phyllis is a shy, young character who lives in a secluded manor house with her father, Dr Grove, who was a professional and well-respected gentleman. There now appears to be a lack of money in the Grove household. She is very wary of people due to her sheltered life of solitude, which is mainly the result of her father’s own seclusion,’ her social condition was twilight.’ She doesn’t appear to have a job as she is the unmarried daughter and she has to look after her father. This was very common for women in the nineteenth century as they didn’t have the freedom to go to work and make a career for themselves. Women who were of a low social class would have done very menial jobs, such as maid or dairy maid.
Martha is the female in focus in the story Weekend. The story appears to be set in the late 1980’s to the early 19990’s. The social class of the family in focus is working class as they do not appear to be poor or extremely rich. Martha is a middle-aged market researcher who is married to Martin, a freelance designer and together they have three children called Jolyon, Jenny and Jasper.
She has a rather hectic lifestyle looking after three children, running a home, holding down a full-time job and being at her demanding husband’s beck and call ‘ there was the car to unpack and the beds to make up and the electricity to connect, and the supper to make and the cobwebs to remove.’ The main theme of this story is how hard Martha has to work and how little recognition she receives in return. She has to play the role of the happy little housewife to please her domineering husband and informs us of how hard her life was made by her husband, the man who is meant to love her. Despite the way she is treated by her husband, she is educated to university standard and she is most probably going to overtake her husband in earnings.
The main male characters in The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion each treat Phyllis in a different manor. Her father, Dr Grove, seems very over-protective of her and likes his life of seclusion. This may be because he lost his wife and feels that it is his duty to make sure that no harm comes of Phyllis and that he thinks he knows what is best for his daughter. When Humphrey Gould asked Mr Grove for his daughter’s hand in marriage, Mr Grove accepted without even consulting Phyllis. Mr Grove considered this to be a good move for his daughter as Humphrey’s family had a respectable social position in the community and he could provide for her. Even though Mr Grove treats his daughter with the respect she deserves, he still refrains her from having her freedom and the right to chose who she wants to marry.
Humphrey Gould himself was a thirty-year-old bachelor from an old local family, who was ‘neither good-looking nor positively plain.’ He seemed extremely happy to have Phyllis as his wife-to-be and gave the impression that he would take good care of her and had great respect for her. He treated her as a lady with great respect, but despite the good image we get of Gould in the beginning of the story, we soon see a different side of him. He goes away to Bath and doesn’t keep Phyllis informed of his whereabouts and she is left questioning whether the engagement is still on or not. When he eventually returns he tells her that he has married another young woman, who he describes as being ‘a dear young belle.’ This action wasn’t very thoughtful on his behalf and even though Phyliss didn’t really want to marry him and didn’t love him, she still fells slightly betrayed.
The only male in The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion who doesn’t treat women as though they are objects and treats Phyllis with the amount of respect and freedom she truly deserves is Matthaus Tina. He was a German soldier in the York Hussars regiment and was staying close to where Phyllis lived. He had travelled to England with his brother Christoph, due to The War of the Second Coalition, and had left his mother in his native town of Saarbuck. After Phyllis had first met Matthaus she couldn’t stop thinking about him and described him as ‘so striking, so handsome, and his eyes were so blue.’ He was twenty-two and had quite a high position in the German Army as a corporal.
He treated Phyllis as though she were equal to him and there was no hint of a divide between them due to her being female. He respected her fully and never let her down, unlike Humphrey Gould who broke off the engagement. He may have treated her with more respect and freedom than the other main men in her life as he was German and in his country they may have been more hospitable towards women.
Martin is the male in focus in Weekend and his is a very obnoxious character. He is married to Martha and he is a freelance designer and there are clues in the story which suggest that he is in his forties, for example ‘he watches the BBC2 news,’ which is typical of a middle-aged person. Martin treats Martha as more of a servant than a wife and he puts all of the responsibilities onto her. He seems to think that he is too good to be doing housework and odd-jobs and Martha is left to do long lists of chores, ‘prepare tea and sandwiches for the family: then she would strip four beds,’ the chores seem endless. Martin is also very particular about how he like things to be done, which means extra work for Martha. Martin thinks ‘ mash is stodgy and ordinary and instant mash is unthinkable,’ which means Martha has to take a long time to sautï¿½ the potatoes and he thinks pork is a dull meat if it’s not cooked properly, so she has to spend ages cooking it just how he likes it.
Martha doesn’t say much in the story as she can’t get a word in edgeways because in his eyes he is the man of the house, even though Martha runs the household. She doesn’t have much of a chance to voice her opinions directly, but she does voice them in her thoughts as the story is mainly written in first person narrative with her as the narrator. She helps us to get inside her head and with her use of lists she helps to inform us of just how many things she has to do. She seems to scared to disagree with Martin and goes along with whatever he says ‘I expect your right,’ just to keep the peace.
Martha and Phyllis are similar in many ways, even though they are in different situations and from different backgrounds. They are both overpowered by the men in their lives who are closest to them and they are both deprived of having their own lives. Neither of the women seem to have a say about what happens in their lives, for example Phyllis was told who to marry by her father and Martha was told what to with her life by her husband. Despite the number of similarities between the two women there are also some differences between them. Martha put up with her way of life and didn’t question it much, but Phyllis did decide to change things. She chose to carry on the affair with Matthaus Tina as she saw a break from her regimented lifestyle and went against her father’s wishes. Phyllis became quite rebellious when she was planning to escape to Saarbuck with Matthaus and Christoph. This is something that Martha would never have considered doing.
Both of the women are victims in each of the stories, but I think that Martha’s suffering was worse than that of Phyllis as hers was constant and she never got a break from it. Phyllis is treated better than Martha in that respect as she had someone in her life who was treating her very well. That person was Tina as he was the only one who saw the true Phyllis and respected the true Phyllis.
To me, Martha’s victimisation is worse than that of Phyllis’ as in 1981 Martha should have had more chances and opportunities due to the development of society, than Phyllis did in1801. I felt very sympathetic towards both of the female characters due to the fact that they are seen as victims and I also felt sympathetic towards Matthaus Tina. I felt sympathetic towards him as he did so much for Phyllis and did his best to keep her happy. It was very sad when he was killed at the end of the story and I again felt very sympathetic towards Phyllis as she lost the one person she truly trusted. The rest of her life is touched by the scandal, even though she was blameless for what happened.
The type of language used in each of the stories is suited to the time that it was written and they are very different to each other. The language in The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion is formal and uses traditional English, such as ‘unsrupulous’ and ‘melancholy,’ as that type of language would have been used in the nineteenth century. It contains more complex sentences than that used in Weekend and they are sometimes harder to comprehend. The narrative in The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion starts in first person, which is Hardy’s narration to introduce the characters and scene to the reader. It then progresses into third person narrative to involve the reader in the story, before returning to first person narrative to tie of all loose ends in the story, for example Matthaus’ date of death. The use of third person narrative enables the reader to see more deeply into the story and become more involved in what is happening.
The narrative style and language used in Weekend is less formal than that used in Hardy’s stories. There are many non-sentences, such as ‘Katy versus Janet,’ which do not contain a verb and are more of a thought .There are many compound sentences that use words such as then, but, and, so, which helps Martha to express how many jobs she has to do. This use of language is well suited to the date in which the story was set.
The role and rights of women changed quite a lot in the period of time between when the two books were written. In 1801, nobody had the chance to vote and your right to a say depended on your position in society. Men with homes got the vote in 1867, all men got the vote in 1916 and women didn’t get the vote until 1926. This meant that for along time women were seen as being lower than men and were provided for by their husbands. Other turning points for women in this time span were that they were able to get jobs and were protected by The Sex Discrimination Act,1975. This explains why Martha had a job and Phyllis didn’t, but there is still no explanation to support why Martha was treated so badly in modern day Britain. My conclusion is that Fay Weldon was trying to get across that some traditions never change.