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Named after Queen Victoria of England, a queen who retired from public view after her husband Albert died and conducted affairs of state behind doors with intermediaries, placing more emphasis upon her role as mother, the Victorian era was a time of social and economic pressure for women. Women who were not in the work force were perceived as a higher class than others. However, since they often were not educated and their lives centered upon domesticity, they felt the obligation to marry and to procure the best husband that they could.
In the United States in the 1800s, the common law doctrine of femme convert was widespread; wives were under the total rule of their husbands and had no legal control over their earnings from relatives or other sources; they also had no legal control over their children or belongings. Some states ruled that husbands could decides such things as where the family would live, and adultery was not sufficient reason for divorce if committed by the husband. If committed by the wife, it was sufficient reason. While there were more women in high schools than men, women were permitted to go no higher, and the only professions open to them were nursing and elementary education. Of course, women were not allowed to vote during the Victorian era; in short, they had few personal rights.
One American author, Charlotte Gilman Perkins writes of the terrible delusion of the Victorian Age that there was no such thing as post-partum depression. Her short story, "The Yellow Wallpaper," exposes the detrimental thinking of Dr. Weirr Mitchell who believed that women who became depressed after childbirth simply needed quiet, solitude, and bed rest. Likewise, Kate Chopin writes of the stultifying conditions for women in the Victorian Age. Her narratives write of the submersion of women into the lives of the males with whom they live. "Desiree's Baby," a short story by Chopin illustrates how the male considered himself superior with any negativity in a family as the fault of the mother. When Desiree, an orphan, has a baby who has African blood in him, the husband expels her from their home when, in fact, his mother was, unbenowst to him, of African descent. Another work, The Awakening, deals with the suppression of women in this era. In England, the Bronte sisters exhibited an independence of spirit in defiance of the era. Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre certainly exemplifies the independent spirit of woman; Jane defies conventions and is very individualistic and free-spirited.
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