The Victorian Ideal?
Women in Victorian era England were constantly being offered exemplary females to venerate and emulate. There were individuals in positions of power such as the queen who was thought to be a “mother” to her country and there were also various characters in the stories within the yearly keepsake that pushed their fictional experience upon Victorian women readers. Though the exemplary figures may all come from different walks of life they all become admired for their ability to encapsulate the ideal of the Victorian woman. The ideal Victorian woman was to be motherly and humble; two things that are exhibited by two different Victorian model women, Jane Eyre and Mary Seacole, but with an anti-Victorian woman twist. Both Jane Eyre and Mary Seacole exhibit a masculine sense of independency alongside their exemplary actions.
Jane Eyre ends up as an exemplary, motherly figure at the end of her story as she offers herself in service to Rochester for the rest of their days. It is in the end of her story in which she lends herself to the Victorian woman ideal, but in the rest of the novel she exhibits her more rebellious and independent nature. At one point Jane tells her companion Helen Burns, “And if I were in your place I should dislike her; I should resist her; if she struck me with that rod, I should get it from her hand; I should break it under her nose.” Jane’s mere admission to holding intentions such as hers tends to the idea of her being an antithesis to the Victorian ideal early in the novel. As she grows up she loses her defiant disposition and for the most part becomes a meritorious Victorian woman.
Mary Seacole on the other hand never really loses the characteristics that take away from her being a perfect example of a what Victorian women were expected to be. Though Mary Seacole is by all accounts extremely motherly, as she makes very clear in her book; she says of the soldiers in the Crimea War, “Then their calling me “mother” was not, I think, altogether unmeaning.” It is her very masculine nature that betrays her motherly actions. It is the way in which she is paid for her actions, as she is not a nurse, but actually a hotelkeeper. It is also the very way in which she tells her story; her story is told from her as a celebration of all her actions. She is not humble at all but very much narcissistic. Though her actions may all be motherly and in line with the ideal Victorian woman her motivations and relations of the events are what ultimately take away from her being a perfect Victorian woman.
Of all the different role models Victorian age women in England had to gaze upon there were not many that offered so much to admire alongside so much to despise as Mary Seacole and Jane Eyre. Jane Eyre and Mary Seacole each hold masculine and independent tendencies that take away from their ideal Victorian woman habits.