Historically, male and female views on different aspects of social life varied dramatically. This difference was naturally reflected in literature that serves as the main tool of self-expression and opportunity to express the position of an author either male or female. In this respect, male and female perspective on marriage remained one of the most arguable points where the positions of male and female writers differed dramatically. At the same time, it does not necessarily mean that they were totally different since both male female authors were significantly affected by the existing social stereotypes and gender roles and attitudes defined by these stereotypes.
Nevertheless, researching the development of British literature and analyzing the works of most popular and known writers of the epoch from 1660 to 1800, it is possible to state that male and female attitude to marriage may be easily traced through the relationship between men and women depicted by the authors of this period of time. In fact, despite the fact that this period was characterized as the epoch of Enlightenment, the impact of traditional stereotypes still remained quite strong. This is why in works of many male authors it is possible to trace the superior attitude toward women and quite negligent attitude to marriage in particular. Often women were viewed as trouble-makers and marriage was viewed as a kind of additional social burden men had to face.
In stark contrast, female authors, being relatively few compared to male writers, attempted to present their own unique view on women at large and their social position. Naturally, their perspective on marriage was an important indicator of their feminist advancements. However, the analysis of works of female authors reveal the fact that, regardless the progressive view on women and growing feminism, they still viewed marriage as an important and desirable part of their life which was often romanticized.
In such a way, on analyzing the male and female perspective on marriage in British literature, it is necessary to properly evaluate the extent to which male positions were conservative and the role of marriage in the works of male writers compared to the positions of female writers in the context of the growing feminine consciousness, which though still remained overshadowed by male stereotypes concerning the role of women and female ideal.
Male perspective on marriage
Taking into consideration the dominance of male authors and male views in British literature in 1660-1800, it would be logical to start with the analysis of the male perspective on marriage. This will obviously need the discussion of the works of some significant figures in British literature of that epoch.
First of all, it would be natural to start with John Milton, the author, which to a significant extent, revolutionized British literature and notably traditional views on many aspects of human life, especially religious ones, but who actually failed to break historical stereotypes concerning marriage and relationship between men and women. In fact, it is basically through the relationship of males and females that it is possible to trace the author’s position in relation to marriage. In this respect, it is possible to refer to one of the most popular and significant works of John Milton “Paradise Lost”¯, the great epic completed by 1667.
At first glance the epic poem basically concerns the religious views of the author and changes traditional Biblical stereotypes dramatically. However, it is hardly possible to say the same thing about Milton’s vies on ht role of women and marriage at large. Basically, the author’s perspective on marriage may be traced through the relationship between Adam and Eve and it is highly important how the author depicts and assesses their behavior.
Adam and Eve are allowed by God to live in Paradise, in the Garden of Eden, as long as they do not eat the apple that grows on the Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil. In accordance with Biblical legend, Satan persuades Eve to eat fruit from the Tree of Knowledge and to take another one for Adam. As Eve tells Adam what she has done
Speechless he stood and pale, till thus at length
First to himself he inward silence broke:
“O, fairest of Creation, last and best
Of all God’s works, creature in whom excelled
Whatever can to sight or thought be iormed
Holy, divine, amiable, or sweet!
How are thou lost!
In such a way, John Milton represents quite a subjective view on Eve, as a representative of females, which is actually Adam’s wife. In fact, Eve is probably admired and beloved by Adam to the extent that he can hardly resist her arguments and persuasion:
”¦ Some cursed fraud
Of enemy hath beguilded thee, yet unknown.
And me with thee hath ruined; for with thee
Certain my resolution is to die.
How can I live without thee? How forgo
Thy sweet converse and love so dearly joined,
To live again these wild woods forlorn?
(Milton, nook IX)
As a result, Adams decides to eat the fruit for love of Eve and, as a punishment, God banishes them both to the newly created world, where they have to face the life of toil and woe. At the same time, the author’s representation of a woman is rather negative since she turns to be the major cause of trouble of a man, as Eve violates the rules herself and forces Adam, her husband, to do the same. In contrast to the cunning and disobedient woman, or wife, the man, husband, turns to be quite the opposite he is conscious of the rules, obedient and faithful to God but he cannot resist to his love to Eve and violates the rules. Obviously, such a representation of Eve as a representative of females creates quite a negative attitude to women at large and the marriage, which is actually supposed to be based on love, is a kind of burden for Adam as a representative of males, and the cause of unnecessary troubles.
Nonetheless, Milton underlines that his characters love each other and are ready to meet whatever the earth has in store for them. On the other hand, he depicts the relations between Adam and Eve as highly unequal since the latter turns to be totally subordinated to and dependent on her husband. When they are driven out of Eden, Eve says to Adam:
”¦ but now lead on;
In me is no delay; with thee to go
Is to stay here: without thee to stay
Is to go hence unwillingly; thou to me
Art all things under Heaven, all places thou,
Who for my willful crime art banished hence”¯
(Milton Book XII)
Consequently, being conscious of her crime, Eve is ready to obey to her husband and relies on him that is actually a typical male view on the role of female in marriage in British literature of the epoch as the ideal marriage was viewed as the marriage in which the husband dominates while the role of wife is minimized, or, what is more, the role of women may be quite negative as they are a potential source of troubles for men.
In this respect, the perspective of Daniel Defoe on marriage is even more radical. In his famous novel, “Robinson Crusoe”¯, he glorifies individualism and self-sufficiency of a man. Even though, there are no major female characters, it is possible to estimate that such a lack of attention to females indicates at the author’s skeptical attitude to women and marriage at large. In fact, according to Defoe, a man can live by himself comfortably and make all the things he needs with no other humans. No wonder that the years spent by Robinson Crusoe on the deserted island he recalls as the best years of his life. At this point the male perspective on marriage and women has probably reached its peak in British literature of 1660-1800s since, unlike Milton, for instance, who is quite skeptical about women and views them as a source of troubles in marriage, Defoe simply annihilates marriage as well as the role of women who turn to be simply unnecessary for a happy life of a man.
Female perspective on marriage
Quite a different perspective on marriage and the role of women have female writers. It is worthy of mention that there were just few female writers who had managed to gain public recognition and popularity in the epoch and, what is more, there views were substantially influenced by stereotypes generated by male-dominated society.
One of the most popular and successful female writer in Britain was Ann Radcliffe who basically gained her popularity due to gothic novels written in a particular and original style depicting female characters from a different perspective than male writers traditionally did. Naturally, her attitude and representation of marriage also differed dramatically.
In fact, it should be said that Radcliffe’s works are characterized by the development of a new female characters who are already conscious of their social role, their rights and opportunities and who strive for their personal happiness regardless all the obstacles they face. Love remains one of the major themes of her works and marriage is viewed by the author as the natural consequences of love of a man and woman. Her characters, often seek for love and as they find it, their life changes dramatically for better. This is why it is possible to estimate that Ann Radcliffe as a female writer realizes the importance of marriage as an essential part of life of any woman and as a condition of happiness.
On the other hand, her female characters are not irresponsible, unreliable, deceitful creatures as many male writers viewed on women. In this respect, it is possible to refer to Milton’s Eve whose disobedience to rules led to punishment of her husband and all the mankind. At the same time, Radcliffes women are not totally dependent on men anymore. Instead, Radcliffe’s heroines in “The Mystery of Udolpho”¯ and “The Italian”¯ do not match traditional stereotypes and are really different female characters. For instance, unlike male perspective on females as wives, Radcliffe underlines that her heroine may be not less significant than men and they can possess the same qualities.
For instance, in “The Mystery of Udolpho”¯, the heroine’s dying father warns her of the danger of extensively exercising her sensibility, the quality traditionally attributed to women: “above all my dear Emily”¦ do not indulge in the pride of fine feeling, the romantic error of amiable minds”¦ we become the victims of our feelings, unless we can in some degree command them”¯ (Radcliffe 241). In actuality, this is a typically male view which the writer’s female characters challenge and they do not fear to be free and strive for their love and happiness overcoming social prejudices and mysterious obstacles. Moreover, Radcliffe emphasizes the importance of the freedom of choice, independent judgments, and personal position of females, independent from the influence of men.
Consequently, men and women can be equal in marriage and their should not be any subordination but, marriage, according to Radcliffe, should rather be viewed as a unity of two individuals that love each other. However, regardless its importance, the marriage is not actually the realization of female freedom and independence. In actuality, the author rather insists on the necessity of making a conscious choice in marriage but still Radcliffe’s social protests against inequality between males and females does not reach the marriage itself which is probably idealized by the author. In fact, her rebellious heroines “disappear into marriage and idyllic tranquility at the end reassuring readers and setting to rest the anxieties”¯ (Wolf 305) aroused by her novels.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that male and female perspectives on marriage in British literature in 1660-1800 doffer dramatically, though the impact of stereotypes created by the male-dominated society are still quite strong affecting the works of female writers. As a result, male writers rather tend to skeptical and very critical attitude to marriage and females to the extent that they are considered of a little or even no importance, while females view marriage as an important part of the life of any woman and the opportunity to find their love and live happily. However, the problem of equality of men and women in marriage still remained practically unnoticed, even in the works of female writers.