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THE ROLE OF WOMEN AND ROMANCE IN 19TH CENTURY LITERATURE In the 19th century the vast majority of women had very limited freedom They were in most respects property of their husbands or fathers and had very little choice in the direction of their life Perhaps because womens roles were so restricted romance novels were one of the most popular ways for women to escape the drudgery of their pre-set life However in the novels of the time in works such as Jane Eyre Madame Bovary and La Bete Humaine seeking romance was shown to have nothing but negative consequences It is important to remember the prevailing attitudes and social codes of the time when analyzing the role of women and romance in 19th century novels Women were by and large portrayed as the domestic ideal because thats what was expected of them in society This domestic ideal consisted largely of the ideas of selflessness and sympathy a sort of angel of the house mentality that placed women in roles that discouraged discourse and intellectual endeavor What is left then but the world of romance Yet this romantic world is impossible precisely because of the role of women Being entirely dependent on men the course of action is limited Consider the plight of the heroine in Gustave Flauberts Madame Bovary Emma Bovary rebels against the domestic role she has been cast into Her complacent life as a wife and mother soon becomes dull and full of drudgery it is nothing like the exotic world of the books she reads She longs for escape from the passionless existence of her everyday life and dreams of entering a world of debutante balls and new and exciting fervor The world she lives in though strictly limits her ability to do so If she is to entertain new passions she must rebel against the code of selflessness and sympathy because in the 19th century world controlled by
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