Thursday, 9 February 2012

Man and Wife by Wilkie Collins or how glad I am I am not a woman in the 18th century

I am glad I am not a woman in the Victorian society! I am glad I have the right to choose whom I marry, to own property, to get my salary, and to tell my husband to f*ck himself if he is a drunkard who beats me. Yes, I still get the inferior judgements by men. I admit the only two things I know about my car are how to drive it and how to put gas. I don't want to learn anything else. I don't want to be a man in women shoes and I still believe I am born a woman not to fight my way up like a madman, but I am born to live my own life the way I like it, still being taken care of. I also get the "weird" looks when I tell I want to do investment banking. "It's a man's job and a man's world". To be honest, I don't get offended by these comments. I don't feel overly feministic, I don't insist men treat me as equal to them. I am not equal to them. I am a woman. I should be taken care of, I should be let NOT to understand stuff like where the hell do you put liquid in your car or how you change your tiers, I don't understand football and I never will. The only thing I do, I drink beer. So far with my manly habits.

My "problems" seem minor compared to the place of the woman in the Victorian society. Man and Wife by Wilkie Collins explores the inferior position of women in 18th century UK and the problem of irregular marriages in Scotland. Just like in The Woman in White, the amazing Collins portrays strong women and villainous men. With a slight note of English humor (which you will find amusing only if you are actually fond of English humor) Collins criticizes a society found on prejudice, hypocritical moral, and outdated rules, that positions the woman as a servant, as an addition, as a doll, but never as an equal to the man.

Blanche and Anne are best friends. Just like their mothers carrying the same name were. Anne's mother becomes a victim of the Scottish law regarding marriages and is abandoned by her husband. Years later her daughter becomes a victim of the same law. Anne is beautiful, clever, and admirable. She just makes a mistake. Like all of us. She falls in love with the wrong man and gets pregnant. Geoffrey Delamayn is the symbol of the newly born English man - a muscularly cultivated creature with absolutely no thought capital whatsoever. With a slight touch of irony and sarcasm, Collins portrays the shift in an entire nation from admiring the clever to admiring the strong. Put into an undesirable situation, Anne is forced to escape her home waiting for Geoffrey to marry her. A complication arises when Blanche's fionce visits Anne at the inn she is hiding to deliver a message from Geoffrey and introduces him as her husband. This is rather unsurprising as a single woman in the Victorian age was not supposed to be staying alone anywhere. Here is where the troubles for the main characters begin.

Collins actively criticizes the law of irregular marriages in Scotland, according to which a man and a woman become a man and wife by simple acts such as promising to marry each other, claiming to be man and wife, or even staying alone together. The woman is not protected in any way from men. She is an inferior creature, born to take care of the man, to raise children, and to be beautiful and quiet. In this society Anne stands out as a strong and independent woman, who faced with the realisation she might be married to her best friend's fiance, flees all through England alone and sacrifices her life and dreams to resolve the misunderstanding.

Collins' infatuation with the role of women in Victorian society is admirable. In The Woman in White he again depicted a woman being a victim of a unscrupulous and dangerous man. Similarly, in Man and Wife, Anne must fight against the greed and stupidity of Geoffrey, the ambiguity of the law, and the prejudice of people from higher classes. The most amazing character in the story is indeed sir Patrick, Blanche's uncle. He is exactly what an English gentleman must be. Witty, sarcastic, yet extremely clever and resourceful. His remarks regarding the state of the English society mimic Collins' opinion - people have focused on the outside rather than on the inside; they have stopped thinking and have only started fighting; they obey an obviously stupid law and they allow women to be placed unprotected in an undesirable situation.

I simply adore Wilkie Collins. Not only because he writes about one of my favorite historical times (i.e Victorian age in the UK) but also because he possesses a perfect combination of English humor, thin sarcasm, and straight-to-the-point criticism that make his novels a must read. Himself never been married, the author openly opposes the Scottish (and to be honest any law of) marriage in 18th century UK because simply put it deprives the woman from any rights but imposes on her many obligations. A side story to the main plot is the shocking destiny of Hester Dethridge, a woman from a lower class, married to a drunkard. He gets her money, than beats her, than gets drunk. The viscous cycle is repeated over and over again and is actually protected by the law. Women have to suppress to it, die, or kill. It is the way it was, though, back then. I am happy that my only problem now is men laughing at me when I ask them "How do you change the grease in the car?"

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