The Narrator, Female Sexuality and Religion

With the introduction of Miss Clack, a female narrator, we are introduced with the possibility of receiving a less gendered, and more genuine, representation of a woman’s role in Victorian society. However, while Miss Clack’s narration contrasts to Betteredge’s view of women as overall silly and bothersome, with overt linkages to a patriarchal society, it becomes clear that the female narrator does not necessarily offer an unbiased, liberating perspective either. Miss Clack’s descriptions of female character’s reflect both her assumptions about the nature of female self-awareness, as well as the intrusions of external socializing forces that permeate the conclusions that she claims as her own. By describing her own, and Rachel’s, reactions to certain events highlights what was proprietary, from an Evangelical Christian perspective, for expression of female sexuality and vitality at the time.

Miss Clack resolutely (albeit falsely) believes in her own self-awareness, and assumes the same extent, and type, of awareness to be possessed by all the women around her. This belief is rhetorically constructed by Miss Clack through her self-reflections and commentaries but, taking the permeation of religious diction and a self-righteous tone throughout her narration, serve to highlight the religious values of the period that sought to constrain female sexuality. Firstly, Miss Clack’s confession of “an ecstasy of spiritual forgetfulness” (259) that overcomes her in the moments that Mr. Godfrey embraces her hands reveals her religiously-motivated awareness of the forbidden nature of sensual pleasure or intimacy. Furthermore, her speculation, which she prefaces with false modesty, Rachel’s frustration “with herself for not being able to control a revulsion of feeling of which she was secretly ashamed” (261) carries with it the assumption that her attraction for another man, deemed inappropriate, is something is a private point of self-loathing. It is unclear whether this assumption is made by Miss Clack because of her own hyper-critical, over-zealous nature, or a reflection of the religious framing of appropriate, ‘blessed’ expression of desire and sexuality.

This textual ambivalence is further complicated by the juxtaposition of two literally opposing statements: “It was impossible not to admire her [Rachel’s] delicacy and her resolution, and it was equally impossible not to feel that she was putting herself in the wrong. I entreated her to consider her own position.” (280). The irony of the statement is that Rachel has most likely considered her position in depth, but is doing so from a completely different schema of gender roles and appropriate gendered behavior from Miss Clack. Furthermore, it reveals Miss Clack’s vague, possibly subconscious (as is suggested by her admission, “I am deeply interested in mental problems” (258)) attraction to a schema outside of the constraints of an Evangelical Christian belief system.

Reflecting on her religious imagery such as her invocation of Eve to describe Rachel’s “fallen nature” (263) earlier in the selection may then be questioned in this light: What are we to make of Miss Clack’s interpretation of the ‘proper’ emotive responses for women of the time? Are they indicative of her independent “mental” problem-solving as woman in her own right and based on her own experience, or are her conceptions of female sexuality, based on her diction and imagery, solely indicative of an external belief system?

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