Home > Uncategorized > Hypocritical Ladies: A Link Between Victorian England and Antebellum South

Hypocritical Ladies: A Link Between Victorian England and Antebellum South

Margaret Weylin in Octavia Butler’s Kindred is a replication of a character type that seems to have been present in many works of Western literature: the judgmental and hypocritical “pious” lady of the house, usually circa 19th century. I have seen this model not only twice in this particular class (once in Kindred and once in Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl) but also in a postmodern British novel named The French Lieutenant’s Woman, by John Fowles, that I am currently reading for Dr. Meyer’s British (Post)Modernism & Movies class. The French Lieutenant’s Woman is a postmodern novel written about characters in Victorian Britain. One woman in particular, Mrs. Poulteney, has the same character qualities that make Margaret such a horrid antagonist in Kindred. Mrs. Poulteney is the lady of a house, and she considers herself to have high moral standing because of this. She looks down on others for their supposed sins in the same way that Margaret Weylin finds fault and sin in all of her slaves. The one really striking resemblance to me, however, was the fact that both ladies end up using heavy amounts of laudanum, which Fowles states was quite normal for the time. This parallel suggests that there is a similar perceived “problem” with women in both the Antebellum South and Victorian England societies, and that the treatment of those women is similar. But the way in which Mrs. Poulteney treats the main character, a poor young woman who has fallen under Mrs. Poulteney’s employment named Sarah, mirrors remarkably the way in which Margaret treats Dana in Kindred. It is remarkable how problems arising from the insecure position of upper-class woman both in England and in the Southern United States results in their almost identical mistreatment of their subordinates.

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