Though I don’t know how vital these characters will be to the whole of the novel, I found the interactions and gender roles in the Garth family to be contradictory and intriguing. When we are introduced to Mrs. Garth, she is described as a generally domestic woman with a pension for teaching. We learn that she believes in traditional gender roles for women, who should be “entirely subordinate” in her opinion (228). But this description of Mrs. Garth contradicts her actions in relation to her husband during the scene in which she finds out that Fred is unable to repay his debt to the family.
Mrs. Garth was unaware of the financial deal made between Fred and her husband, and while an “entirely subordinate” wife might accept being left out of the family financial dealings in such a matter, Mrs. Garth is certainly uncomfortable with it. In fact, she chastises her husband, who takes on the submissive role in this scene. Mr. Garth feels genuine remorse for making such an arrangement without his wife’s knowledge. He submits to her, saying “I was a fool, Susan.” He retreats from his dominant role at the possibility of her being disappointed in him. Mrs. Garth reveals her ability to handle serious family matters outside of the caring of children and household when she says “If I had only known I might have been ready with some better plan.” Such a statement would not likely come from a woman who truly believed her role to be the taker of her husband’s orders. It is clear that despite her stated belief that she believes women should be subordinate to men, she demonstrates in this scene her readiness to step up in the decision making, and criticizes her husband for his financial blunder. The dialogue in this scene could easily be switched, where a husband would assume Mrs. Garth’s words and vice versa. This would be a more plausible conversation between a Victorian couple.