Jean Simmons, Martita Hunt and Anthony Wager in David Lean's 1946 Great Expectations.
200 years after the birth of Charles Dickens, are his views of Victorian women still relevant today? Charles Dickens was and still is one of Britain’s greatest writers with tales such as Little Dorrit, Bleak House, Great Expectations, and Oliver Twist. A writer of the Victorian period, Dickens would have grown up surrounded by the social view that women should be devoted to housekeeping and rearing children. Dickens certainly kept his wife to this role – they had 10 children together before becoming estranged. The female characters of his stories included some very strong, unfeeling women, many of whom were very manipulative. One of his harshest female characters perhaps is Miss Havisham of Great Expectations, who manipulates the lives of Pip and her ward Estelle, to her own detriment. Other memorable characters include Nancy in Oliver Twist, who is a fallen woman, ignorant, uneducated but with morals that the more privileged women of Charles Dickens novels lack. Little Dorrit represents a more virginal female character, innocent and unaware. Ada and Ester in Bleak House also have the vulnerable, moral personalities of the Victorian ideal.
Were these characters a reflection of how he envisaged his wife’s personality? Many people believe so. Dickens often made his more likable women those of a lower class system, often innocent young girls. This could perhaps have been a reflection of his own preference and liking for his younger mistresses rather than his own wife.
Wherever he found his inspiration, the female characters of Charles Dickens are both memorable and wide ranging from the wealthy, manipulative women, to the poor, vulnerable young girls with morals. Versions of these personalities I’m sure can still be found in today’s society.
Girl Museum Inc.