The Adventure of Being a Woman in the Victorian Era

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Nowadays the female characters have more important roles in novels than they used to, especially if the novel is all about the male figures. When thinking about a story of strong and determined adventurers, most of the times what comes to mind is the figure of a masculine character, (because women were simply not enough to be like that). When this novel was written, in 1885, women had to stay at home and be the perfect angel in the house: have kids and take care of them as well as of the house, be ready for when the husband would come from work, be obedient, be feminine, etc. all in the domestic world. So, undoubtedly, that is how women were written in the books. As this novel occurs in the desert, being on adventures and, certainly, not in the typical British environment, women are hardly ever present and when they are, they are treated in a sexist way. Richard Patteson, in his essay, says that women do not usually figure as protagonists. Instead, their function is to support, or to foil, the action of the male heroes in a variety of ways. This leaves us wondering, what is the role of the female characters in this novel?

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For starters, there are not many appearances of women in the novel, and the ones that appear they do it in a way considered as a mass, women as a whole and not individually. A clear example of this is the sacrifice of a woman from the tribe. The only reason why this annually sacrifice is done is because otherwise the king “shall fall and his house” . The fact that they think a sacrifice is something good to do shows how the society was, specially that tribe. Moreover, the person sacrificed had to be a woman, just because sacrificing a man would be a waste of resources. As if that was not enough, that woman had to be the fairest. What this passage is proving is that the role of the feminine is nothing else than simply existing and doing nothing. They don’t have an important role, or even a role for itself, since existing is not a purpose. Women are vanished from the society and only used when men think it’s appropriate. Another aspect is the beauty. It is the only way they use to differ women. The most beautiful is the one that has to die and, therefore, the white imperialist men feel the need and the duty to save her, as Quatermain says “we will not tolerate such thing” . They finally manage to save her and take her with them, only to be killed a few days later. During those days, Captain Good acts as her protector in a lover way. However, their relationship could not have evolved more than that, because of the racial difference. Foulata says it herself, just before dying “for the sun cannot mate with the darkness, nor the white with the black”. Leading to believe that a black girl cannot marry a white Englishman.

At the beginning of the novel, Quatermain explains that throughout their adventures in Africa, there is only one woman, Foulata. But then, he quickly says that there is also Gagool, although he doesn’t consider her a woman, but a fiend. He also says she is a hundred years old, at least, and “therefore not marriageable, so I don’t count her” . The two women that appear in the novel are Foulata and Gagool: the prettiest and the oldest. Gagool, the witch, is considered by the protagonist so old that is not worthy of marriage. Quatermain says she is a fiend, in other words, evil and cruel. Thus, there are the two extremes, telling us that women can either be good, pretty and young like Foulata, but probably have a tragic ending like her; or be old, ugly and evil like Gagool. She has a not very favorable role, and men dislike her even more when it is discovered her brutality, which is not a quality that a woman should have. The way she is described has an animal-like resemblance: “withered-up monkey, wrapped in a fur cloak”, “[she] projected a skinny claw armed with nail nearly an inch long”. So, as Hana Šafrancová says «she is rather described as someone who has degenerated to the level of an animal. With her countenance, she is not able to pose a threat to the men with her femininity. Instead, she maintains a reign of terror over the native population». Haggard writes the control she has as a way to control men, and they fear it, weather they are the Englishmen or the natives. Hence, her power and influence are reduced by her physical appearance and treated as an animal, not even as a person. When Gagool is destroyed, «the masculinity of the three men, therefore, is reaffirmed and the threat of the New Woman is successfully quashed», says Reid in his journal.

All in all, there is more to see in each character, but for what is analyzed here we can clearly see that the role of the feminine in this novel is nothing else than playing the two faces of the coin. To show the possible female readers that they can’t behave or be like Gagool, it would be damaging for them, it would not be the perfect Angel in the House. It also has a different reading for male public, and it is that interracial relationships are not meant to work out, as it happened with Good and Foulata. Also, that if they ever encounter with a woman like Gagool, it would be best to don’t trust her get rid of her. It is a fear for them that women get power and use it to their favor.

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