Rachel: a portrait of a “modern” woman?

As the Betteredges’s narrative progresses, I was particularly struck by the portait of Miss Rachel and her marriage plot of the two suitors. Our narrator describes her first as “difficult […] to fathom” and then presents many of her characteristics as unique and unlike most other girls of her age. Mr Franklin is enamored by her characteristics. She has “ideas of her own,” defiant, and independent (65); she keeps to herself and is both her best friend and her worst enemy. I thought it was particularly interesting that she treats both her enemies and her friends “with equal heartiness,” even though the rest of her description paints her as someone who is true to herself, like a true individual.

Keeping our other readings this semester in mind, I read Miss Rachel as a portrait of a modern woman. She responds uniquely to the challenges of modernity and is subsequently attractive to two suitors. Even though there is this obvious fall for him, what Penelope calls “love at first sight,” Collins nonetheless factors in this second suitor, Mr Godfrey. He is described as necessary to the entire female gender; he is a philanthropist who directs his goodwill towards poor women: “confining poor women […] rescuing poor women […] putting poor women into poor men’s places” (67).

I ask myself, if Miss Rachel is described in such a disapproving way by our narrator, then what do these two men see in her? If Mr Godfry is financially attracted to helping out “poor women,” then he probably sees Miss Rachel as another cause to which he can donate his generous heart. I think this is reinforced by they way Penelope sees through his less genuine interests, and casts her vote for Mr Franklin.

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