Female agency in restoration and nineteenth-century drama

Female agency in restoration and nineteenth-century drama

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Female agency in restoration and nineteenth-century drama
Anderson, Haley
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[Tampa, Fla]
University of South Florida
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Aphra Behn
Elizabeth Robins
George Bernard Shaw
Dissertations, Academic -- English -- Masters -- USF ( lcsh )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


ABSTRACT: This thesis examines issues of female agency in the plays The Rover and The Widow Ranter by Aphra Behn, Mrs. Warren's Profession by George Bernard Shaw, and Votes for Women! by Elizabeth Robins. The heroines of each of these plays work toward gaining agency for themselves, and in order to achieve this goal, they often stray from cultural norms of femininity and encroach on the masculine world. This thesis postulates that agency for women becomes a fluid notion, not statically defined. These plays show a fluctuating and evolving sense of feminine agency.
Thesis (MA)--University of South Florida, 2010.
Includes bibliographical references.
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by Haley Anderson.

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Female agency in restoration and nineteenth-century drama
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by Haley Anderson.
[Tampa, Fla] :
b University of South Florida,
Title from PDF of title page.
Document formatted into pages; contains X pages.
Thesis (MA)--University of South Florida, 2010.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
System requirements: World Wide Web browser and PDF reader.
3 520
ABSTRACT: This thesis examines issues of female agency in the plays The Rover and The Widow Ranter by Aphra Behn, Mrs. Warren's Profession by George Bernard Shaw, and Votes for Women! by Elizabeth Robins. The heroines of each of these plays work toward gaining agency for themselves, and in order to achieve this goal, they often stray from cultural norms of femininity and encroach on the masculine world. This thesis postulates that agency for women becomes a fluid notion, not statically defined. These plays show a fluctuating and evolving sense of feminine agency.
Advisor: Marty Gould, Ph.D.
Aphra Behn
Elizabeth Robins
George Bernard Shaw
Dissertations, Academic
x English
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
4 856
u http://digital.lib.usf.edu/?e14.4529


Female Agency in Restoration and NineteenthCentury Drama by Haley D. Anderson A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts Department of English College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: Marty Gould, Ph.D. Laura Runge, Ph.D. Elizabeth Metzger, Ph.D. Date of Approval: July 1, 2010 Keywords: Victorian, Theater, Aphra Behn, Elizabeth Robins, George Bernard Shaw Copyright 2010, Haley D. Anderson


Dedication This thesis is dedicated to my wonderful boyfriend, Phillip, who has given me enduring emotional support and kept me sane throughout the process of graduate school. I would like to thank my mother for her never ending reassurance and my father for his steady encouragement of and contribution to my love of books. I also offer special thanks to the late Dr. Stephen Szilagyi, who first set me on and prepared me for this path.


Acknowledgements I would like to acknowledge the invaluable contributions provided to me by my thesis committee. My appreciation goes out to Dr. Elizabeth Metzger for graciously agreeing to be a committee member and to Dr. Laura Runge for her advice, particularly regarding the first chapter of this thes is. Lastly, I must express my gratitude to my thesis advisor, Dr. Marty Gould, for his contribution of countless hours and advice as I moved through this lengthy process. You all have my utmost thanks and appreciation for your mentorship.


i Table of Contents Abstract ................................................................................................................ ii Introduction ......................................................................................................... 1 Chapter 1: Transvestism in Aphra Behns The Rover and The Widow Ranter ............................................................................................................. 6 Chapter 2: Developing Agency in George Bernard Shaws Mrs. Warrens Profession ................................................................................... 26 Chapter 3: Agency through Suffrage in Elizabeth Robinss Votes for Women! ........................................................................................................ 54 Conclusion ........................................................................................................ 72 List of References ............................................................................................ 76 About the Author ................................................................................ END PAGE


ii Female Agency in Restoration and NineteenthCentury Drama Haley D. Anderson Abstract This thesis examines issues of female agency in the plays T he Rover and The Widow Ranter by Aphra Behn, Mrs. Warrens Profession by George Bernard Shaw, and Votes for Women! by Elizabeth Robins. The heroines of each of these plays work toward gaining agency for themselves, and in order to achieve this goal, they often stray from cultural norms of femininity and encroach on the masculine world. This thesis postulates that agency for women becomes a fluid notion, not statically defined. These plays show a fluctuating and evolving sense of feminine agency.


1 Introduction Attention to Aphra Behns oeuvre fell to the wayside beginning in the eighteenth century; however, with the revival of scholarly interest in her work, Aphra Behn is now widely known as a determined woman writer who broke into a profession long deemed a singularly masculine pursuit. In attempting a career as a writer, Behn suffered much frustration the result of the discrimination she faced due to her gender.1 Behn often aired her frustration in her writings as she does in her Epistle to the Reader from The Dutch Lover in which she scathingly addresses her detractors. Behn further indicates in her preface to The Lucky Chance that she felt that in order to write she took on a masculine persona: All I ask, is the Priviledge for m y Masculine Part the Poet in me . to tread in those successful Paths my Predecessors have so long thrivd in (Preface 398). This mixing of gender becomes further developed in Behns dramatic writings, The Rover and The Widow Ranter when her heroines assume masculine roles in order to gain agency.2 1 For more information on Aphra Behns life, including the criticism her writing drew, refer to Janet Todds leading biography, The Secret Life of Aphr a Behn. Also, Janet Todds The Critical Fortunes of Aphra Behn focuses extensively on the critical reception of Behns works from her lifetime to her place in the modern canon. 2 While the particular argument that cross dressing gains these heroines agen cy is my own, analyses of Behns use of gender abound. Much of this work focuses on Behns poetry and prose, such as Jacqueline Pearsons article, Gender and Narrative in the Fiction of Aphra Behn, which looks at Behns complex use of gender in her pros e writings. Stephen Szilagyis The Sexual Politics of Behns Rover: After Patriarchy explores the sexuality of characters in the


2 Womens issues of agency, touched on in Behns work during the Restoration, grew increasingly important during the Victorian era when the woman question became a dominant social concern.3The late seventeenth and nineteenth centuries provide fertile ground for examining shifting notions of agency because both periods represent moments of transition for concepts of womanhood. Restoration sexuality was much less restrictiv e than at later times, which will develop stricter definitions of femininity (Martin 193), and the late Victorian period saw the rise of the womens movement With womens growing demand for independence and entrance in the public sphere, the New Woman quickly became a figure of concern for Victorians, one that is encountered in both Shaws Mrs. Warrens Profession and Robinss Votes for Women. In both plays the female char acters strive for the right to govern their own lives, through profession in the former and the demand for womens suffrage in the latter. And choosing these routes to agency, the heroines, similar to those of Behns plays, enter into traditionally maled ominated spheres. Rover and how it relates to Restoration politics, using the interactions between male and female characters to support his points. Roberta C. Martins Beauteous Wonder of a Different Kind: Aphra Behns Destabilization of Gender Categories examine numerous works by Behn including The Rover and looks at how Behn, at a time of fluctuating gender norms, subverts gender. Laura Runges book, Gender and Language in British Literary Criticism, 16601790, provides an extensive exploration of gender roles in Restorationperiod England, which also proves useful in this context. 3 Mary Pooveys Uneven Developments looks at the domestic ideology surrounding Victorian womanhood, providing useful information regarding the condition of the Victorian woman. Lyn Pyketts The Improper Feminine focuses on women an d norms of femininity in Victor ia n England, arguing that femininity revolved around a domestic ideal. Much of her work examines fiction about women who deviate from that norm, such as the women of sensation novels, fallen women, and the New Woman. Sally Ledgers The New Woman: Fiction and Feminism at the Fin de Sicle builds on the work of Pykett and others, providing a definition of the New Woman based on the rhetoric of the late nineteenth century. Ann Heilmanns New Woman Fiction: Women Writing First Wave Feminism looks at later constructions of the New Woman and her relation t o the feminist movement.


3 that demanded a loosening of gender norms for women. These four plays are particularly exemplary of the development of female agency, revealing that many different versions of agency for women can exist. This creates a theme of fluid agency an agency that shifts and changes according to the woman and situation which has not been significantly devel oped in scholarship for either the plays or the period of time the plays span. Furthermore, no critic seems to extensively consider feminine agency gained through the masculine for any of these particular plays. This is a gap that I feel needs to be addres sed, since doing so can reveal developments and changes in drama regarding this specific theme. This process is a necessary step to enriching the detail of our critical knowledge. Thus, I will be offering a different gendered reading for these plays and, indeed, for the theme of female agency in drama Because of this emphasis on issues of femininity and womens agency, this thesis provides a gendered reading of the plays, exploring the governing notions of femininity for both the Restoration and Victorian periods. By examining these four plays together, we will see the development of the depiction of womens quest for agency in the dramatic genre. In particular, the heroines of these plays all seek and ultimately gain agency through actions that encroach on the masculine sphere. We can observe how agency shifts and develops, both for the women in the plays and society. Before I proceed further with an analysis of the heroines of these four plays, it is vital that I establish an initial idea of agency with which I will be working. The Oxford English Dictionary records that as early as 1600 agent or


4 a person possessing agency can be defined as one who . acts with or exerts power, with a secondary definition as one who acts for another (agent). I t is the former definition that I apply to my use of the term agency in this thesis. For the purpose of the heroines of these plays, this power takes the form of being able to act independently and exert control in their lives. But this gives, at best, a simplistic picture of what agency can mean for women, since as we will see through the plays being examined, agency varies and can encompass many different versions. French feminist Hlne Cixous offers an interesting interpretation of femininity that can help us understand how the women in these plays gain agency. In her essay The Newly Born Woman, Cixous claims that women have long been cast in a role of passivity and kept there by patriarchal society (3739). She goes on to assert that newly born woman is bisexual, encompassing elements both masculine and feminine (4142). This, she argues, allows woman more freedom of self (4445). This could account for why the heroines encroach on what society deems masculine as a part of their agencies. While men, according to Cixous, restrict themselves entirely to the masculine, women contain elements of both sexualities. This opens us up to the possibility that the women in these plays can draw from the masculine to gain agency while still remaining wom en. However, this does not account for the fact that the heroines often appear as one or the other: Miss Levering who is described as essentially feminine (Robins 1.1.277) or Vivie who appears entirely asexual. The women in these plays ultimately make c hoices that reinforce the binary concept of


5 male/female sexuality, so in this case the masculine is a tool used by women to gain agency rather than being an inherent part of their own sexuality. As we examine each heroines actions, it is also important t o maintain historical consciousness regarding womens independence. Women today enjoy freedom and independence on a scale drastically higher than women of the Victorian or Restoration period. This has affected our notion of what agency means for women, and it cannot possibly be applied to the plays in question; the context is too different. Each of the heroines to be discussed achieves an agency that was revolutionary for her period, even though for modern readers it seems miniscule compared to what women enjoy today. I argue that by examining the plays together, we will find that agency for women is not easily definable, and is instead a growing concept that develops for each heroine as the plays progress. Each character brings something new to the defini tion of agency, altering it and allowing the concept to expand. Thus, rather than attempting to arrive at a strict definition, we should view womens agency as an evolutionary process


6 Chapter 1: Transvestism in Aphra Behns The Rover and The Wi dow Ranter 1660 saw not just the restoration of Charles II and monarchy to England, but also the return of theater, which had been banned during the Interregnum. Restoration theater brought certain innovations to the stage, the most notable of which was the introduction of women playing the female parts.4 4 For an interesting analysis of the women who became some of the first English actresses, see Thomas A. Kings As if (She) Were Made on Purpose to Put the Whole World into Good Humour: Reconstructing the first English Actress. Such parts had previously been the province of boy actors, and this marked the first time actresses stepped onto the English stage (Maus 595). The rise of women in theatrical performance was accompanied by the sexualization of the actress; as Katharine Eisaman Maus notes, actresses sexuality . was made one of the foci of the dramatic spectacle (601602). This was particularly the case with the common theatrical practice of dressing actresses in mens clothing. The breeches part, as this trope has come to be known, allowed the shapely figure of the actress to be displayed, particularly her legs which were revealed by the style of mens dress and considered to be tantalizing (Howe 56). However, whi le the breeches part can be used to turn female sexuality into spectacle, I argue that some playwrights, like Aphra Behn, use transvestism for more complex purposes as well. Behn frequently utilizes the breeches part in her plays, and Susan Owen


7 attribute s Behns usage to a political, almost protofeminist effect (174). 5 Femininity in Restoration period England was in a state flux, transitioning from the early modern emphasis on womens impurities to the 18th century focus on domestic femininity, and, as Russell West Pavlov notes, the conception of female sexuality moved to one defined as benevolent [and] lust less (39). This transitional period may al low for more fluidity in concepts of female gender (Martin 192 193), but there were still limits of appropriate feminineness that social values dictated for women. In her book, Gender and Language in British Literary Criticism 1660 1790, Laura Runge not es that Restoration femininity was typically characterized by being soft, smooth, regular, pleasing, soothing, sweet sounding, loving, [and] simple (26). While this definition is applied by Runge to John Drydens oeuvre, it also proves suitable for cont ending with Behn since these are exactly the sort of characteristics Behns heroines must wrestle with. Moreover, what Runge points out as a perceived need for female chastity (69) leads, I argue, to an expectation of female modesty that precludes But politics aside, the gender implications of cross dressing allow Behn to service her heroines needs. In Behns The Rover and The Widow Ranter the act of cross dressing allows Hellena and the Widow Ranter to transcend the boundaries of femininity in a patriarchal society in order to achieve agency by being self determining with regard to marriage. 5 For example, Cloris of The Amorous Prince or Hyppolita of The Dutch Lover.


8 outspokenness in women, particularly when relating to men.6 Behn herself struggled with expectations of femininity, since as a w oman and an author her writing violated the expectations of a society that gendered writing as a masculine occupation. Behn often faced negative critique of and reactions to her work that were grounded in her gender and not in the merit of her writing, but, not to be cowed, Behn frequently addressed denigrators and their criticisms. She does this with a sarcastically deferent tone in her Epistle to the Reader from The Dutch Lover as she ridicules a foppish audience member who denounces her work without having seen it: This thing, I tell ye, opening These are the boundaries of definition from which Behns female characters must stray by using masculinity as a mask through cross dressing, thus allowing Behn to achieve what Runge terms a break away from the soft and retiring character of Drydens feminine prescription (129). Roberta C. Martin argues that Behn collapses binary gender categories in order to create the idea of an inbetween, pointing to her ambiguously gendered narrators and her repeated use of the hermaphrodite in poetry (194). A similar rupture is necessary for characters like Hellena, Widow Ranter, and the Indian Queen, because they cannot attain their personal agency by relating to men according to the social norms typically pres cribed for women. Taking on a male appearance allows the heroines a freedom of speech and behavior not available to them as females, better allowing them to arrange their own marriages. 6 These are the same boundaries, which will eventually lead to the Victorian need to maintain separate spheres, restricting women to the domestic.


9 that which serves it for a mouth, out issued such a noise as this to those that sate about it, that they were to expect a woful [sic] Play, God Damn him, for it was a womans [sic] ( Epistle 394). Another s uch instance occurred following the debut of her play, The Rover which critics condemned as purely a plagiarized version of Thomas Killigrews play, Thomaso. Janet Todd observes that The Rover was in fact based on Killigrews work ( Secret 213); however, when Behn addresses the issue in her postscript to The Rover she insists that her play simply took its inspiration from Thomaso and was not a mere alteration (248). Behn attributes the accusation of plagiarism to critics, who are naturally so kind to any that pretend to usurp their dominion (248); in other words, writing is a male domain, and as a woman Behn is usurping her male critics power. Todds footnote for this section supports my claim, since Behn, in later editions, added to this line especi ally of our sex, thus pointing to a female act of usurpation ( Aphra 369 n. 142). It is this type of unfair, spurious and gender biased assessment that Behn faced by those threatened by her ability to exercise agency in the form of free public voice. In her preface to The Lucky Chance, Behn attempts to reconcile her femininity with the insistence on the masculinization of her chosen profession. She first bemoans what we have previously observed as the hypocrisy of gendering the role of the author: I would sum up all your Beloved Plays, and all the things in them that are past with such Silence by; because written by Men: such Masculine Strokes in me, must not be allowd (Preface 397). Behn continues her justification of being a woman writer and conclud es, All I ask, is


10 the Priviledge for my Masculine Part the Poet in me, (if any such you will allow me) to tread in those successful Paths my Predecessors have so long thrivd in (398). Having earlier identified that female playwrights frequently had to endure gender prejudice as part of the reception of their plays, Marta Straznicky concludes that Behns plea here in the preface is driven by economic, monetary concern: Behns primary concern here is professional: the privilege she begs is to be success ful and to thrive writing for the stage, something she could easily accomplish were the playing field level (715). While this argument acknowledges one of the potential limits a professional female author might face, Straznicky glosses over the impl ications of this passage for gender limitations. This is not simply an economic concern; Behn does something more complex when, in order to justify her place as a woman writer, Behn assumes a role of masculinity for herself. As Runge notes, this is effec tive because Behn still retains the position of passive female by deferring to her audience and masculine authority (136). If anything, Behn reinforces the gendering of authorship as a masculine activity by labeling her Poet as masculine. At the same time, Behn mitigates the disjunction between the female speaker and the male role (Runge 30 31); Behns utilization of the possessive pronoun my makes that masculinity an aspect that is already an inherent part of Behns being: in line with Cixouss theory, both the masculine and feminine make up Behns womanhood. Behn goes on to request the priviledge [sic] of being allowed to be a writer and, by putting on a mask of masculinization, creates an appropriate place for herself as a woman writer in a masculine profession. She uses


11 masculinity as a tool to craft a place for herself that allows her to be both writer and woman. It becomes acceptable for Behn to participate in that masculine world because claiming an amount of masculinity makes Behn a par t of that world rather than a female usurper. Much as the breeches part does for her heroines, Behns masculine mask allows her to appropriately interact with men when she achieves her goal of being a writer. In The Rover Hellenas goal is to escape the path to the convent that has been chosen for her and to instead secure a husband, yet she is prevented from achieving this goal by the expectations of appropriate feminine behavior to which she must conform. Stephen Szilagyi remarks in his article, The Sexual Politics of Behns The Rover: After Patriarchy, that Hellenas brother Pedro tries to take over in the role of patriarch given his fathers absence (438). Owen points out that during the Restoration, patriarchal family ideology . [was] an ideal under threat (162). And indeed, in order to attain her desire, Hellena must particularly struggle against the patriarchal authority in the form of her brother, who attempts to dictate the direction her life will take. As Runge observes, there has been a history of the consistent subordination of women to men in patriarchal cultures (11), which makes Hellenas actions all the more interesting. Szilagyi argues that the siblings have equal agency in their parallel revolts against their fathers authority (438 439). However, I would argue because Pedro usurps the patriarchal authority in his fathers absence, it is against Pedro and his attempts to rule over them that his two sisters rebel, thus allowing for a more visible undermining of masculine rule. Hellena is intended to enter into the convent, and


12 her brother Pedro routinely attempts to reinforce this notion during his conversation with his sister, declaring that Hellena is not designed for the conversation of lovers, because she has been bred for the nunnery ( Rover 161).7 7 Because The Rover and The Wi dow Ranter are not divided by line number in the edition used, all intext references in this chapter will be to the page number. Nevertheless, for each reprimand, Hellena supplies a witty rejoinder; her response to this initial reprimand from her brother is spoken in an aside in which she declares that she does not think herself suited to conversation about saints either. She grows increasingly bold in confronting her brothers patriarchal authority over her. When Pedro tires of Hellenas arguing with him over his choice of mate for her sister and finally orders her to be locked away until the ti me when she must join the nunnery, she proclaims, I care not, I had rather be a nun, than be obliged to marry as you would have me, if I were designed for it (162 163). Her declaration is made with a flippant dismissal of his punishment while she pret ends not to care about being sent to a monastery. In doing so, Hellena dissolves her brothers authority over her; he cannot effectively exercise his power over her if she is so indifferent to his punishment (the application of that power). Moreover, Hell enas statement ridicules Pedros ability to choose a marriage partner, thus undermining his authority by implying that he is incapable of performing the duties of a patriarch to provide for his family. Pedro attempts to recover himself by forcefully asser ting that she shall be a nun (163), but Hellena foils him again with her witty repartee: Shall I so? You may chance to be mistaken in my way of devotion: a nun! Yes, I am like to make a fine nun!


13 (163). Her mocking question and sarcastic acceptance of her intended role belie the fact that Hellena has no intention of entering into a convent. Her siblings repeatedly label Hellena as wild, and her wit does not suit the softness expected of women (160, 163); then, her refusal of her brothers demands violates the expectations of female deference to masculine authority that a traditional female figure would follow. Ultimately, Pedros authority over his sisters will be completely frustrated when both of them manage to deviate from the paths Pedro attempts to lay out for them. By growing independent and working towards her own goal of self determination, Hellena grabs an agency for herself that pulls her out of those patriarchal structures and demands of appropriate female behavior. Hellenas sister, Florinda, who is the model of feminine propriety, offers a means of measuring Hellenas departure from the norms of femininity through contrast of behavior. Both girls wish for a relationship, but Florindas desire is, as Szilagyi also observes, more ali gned with the romantic (439). Florinda keeps to the feminine expectations by chastely loving Belvile from afar and never admitting her love when her sister confronts her with it, replying only, Fie, Hellena ( Rover 159). Hellena, on the other hand, devi ates from soft female modesty and instead plans a direct assault, intending to meet a husband for herself through Florindas connection to Belvile (Szilagyi 439). Florinda also differs from Hellena by conforming to the social norm of womens subordinati on to men. When Pedro proposes Antonio as her potential mate instead of the Belvile, Florinda, rather than taking a stand for her desires, instead meekly


14 acquiesces to her brothers authority: Sir, I shall strive to do, as shall become your sister ( Rove r 163).8Masks play a highly significant role in The Rover which is set during a masquerade carnival. The ability of donning a disguise allows the two sisters the freedom of identity to defy their brothers authority. Masks allow Florinda and Hellena to flit around the city attempting to further their own romances while protecting the reputation of their undisguised selves. This is advantageous for the more forward Hellena in particular, since according to Todd, in masquerade, Hellena can flirt and make sexual overtures to a man she does not know, since the disguise allows the rar e pleasure of seeing rather than simply being seen (218). Disguise allows Hellena to move and speak more freely, further contributing to her agency. Among the numerous masks and guises Hellena and Florinda wear, each take on the breeches part just prior to settling their marriages. But, while Florinda ultimately defies her brother and marries Belvile, much of the two lovers meetings leading up to the marriage happen by chance or through Belviles actions, whereas Hellena actively pursues Willmore by Hellena, on the contrary, openly argues with her brother and follows by assuring her sister that Pedro will not determine the marriage. In doing so, Hellena plainly challenges masculine power and dominance over women, deviating from her expected gender role as a woman. Looking at Florindas soft and retiring nature (Runge 129), the wildly exuberant Hellenas version of femininity particularly stands out as nontraditional. 8 While this sequence of interactions was initially brought to my attention by their use in Szilagyis article (see p440), the analysis is my own.


15 seeking him out herself. Florinda finally is able to marry Belvile by taking on the habit . of one of her pages in order to fly to Belvile from her brothers house ( Rover 233). However, this instance of the breeches part is insignificant except for its aid in contrasting Florinda and Hellena. Florindas cross dressing is momentary and is used only to convey her to her future husband keeping her well within the traditional power relations of the patriarchy. Thus, this instance of transvestism occurs on a smaller scale than that of Hellena, who uses her boyish disguise in a much stronger manner, an active pursuit of her desires which adds to her ability to be self determining. Hellena assumes the breeches part after a series of female disguises, which allows her to [escape] the enclosure of a daughter (Todd 218) or more generally of a woman living under a patriarchal system. Concerning Hellenas use of the breeches part, Todd writes, Helena has some distinction in ending the play in cross dress and avoiding a scene of absorption back into society, but, like other witty heroines, she remains a virgin who seeks marriage (218). But, unlike some of her fellow witty heroines, Hellenas goal for marriage does not return her to a state of complete passiv ity.9 9 Consider, for example, the proviso scene between Millamant and Mirabell in William Congreves The Way of the World, in which the witty heroine is bested by her beau in their exchange of wits and ultimately comes out in the role of passive fianc. First and foremost, Hellena began assuming numerous masks and thus transgressing gender boundaries because her goal from the start was to find herself a husband. She at once revolts against patriarchal authority by defying her orders to go into the convent, while remaining within the system of patriarchy by seeking marriage. It is just this sort of


16 complication that makes agency so difficult to pin down: we can say her agency is gained by using transvestism to gain independence and exercise her own will, but her use of that agency will then become dependent on and subject to her husband. Helena must maintain a delicate balance between defiance and adherence to social norms in order to avoid the complete condemnation of society. The breeches part helps her in her balancing act, because cross dressing allows Hellena to take on the role of a man thus stepping away from the expectation that a woman be soft, passive, and modest. Thus, she is able to employ a freedom of speech, movement and behavior typi cally denied women without being condemned for behavior unacceptable in a woman. Navigating outside these boundaries in turn permits Hellena the agency to work independent of patriarchal authority and to negotiate her marriage according to her own needs and wants. Even though she makes the marriage contract in the guise of a man, this is still very much an act of womans agency, because Willmore is in no doubt of Hellenas femininity at the time of the proviso scene. Here the masculine is used as a tool t o gain Hellena the agency necessary to be self determining as a woman. Hellena first establishes her masculine role as a page boy for another of her guises. This is a particularly apt role for Hellena, since a page boy is an agent for another, thus as well as agency through the ability to move and speak freely in public, this guise also allows Hellena to be an agent for herself. And indeed, she uses this role to further her own interests and frustrate Willmores interactions with the courtesan, Angellica Bi anca ( Rover 215 218). Although


17 Willmore recognizes her, Hellena breaks off all positive relations between him and Angellica as a result of Angellicas jealous nature (218 221). Finally things culminate between Hellena and Willmore when they begin to negotiate for marriage in their proviso scene. Willmores recognition of Hellena as a woman is necessary so that they can discuss their marriage in the first place, but even though she is known to be female, Hellena still retains the masculine benefits of the breeches part because her identity remains concealed since she refuses to give Willmore her name. Hellenas ability to occupy the feminine and the masculine at once (like Cixouss concept of bisexual womanhood) allows her the public agency afforded by the masculine mobility and freedom of voice while avoiding the appearance of being inappropriate, thus protecting her feminine reputation and ability to marry. Cross dressing gives Hellena the power to leave behind the demure, passivity of the appropriately modest lady and instead make more forthright demands of Willmore for the continuance of their relationship. First, Hellena declares her sexual interest in Willmore: Faith none, captain: why, twill be the greater charity to take me for thy mistres s. I am a lone child, a kind of orphan lover, and why I should die a maid, and in a captains hands too, I do not understand (241). As an appropriately chaste and modest woman that is the model for femininity, Hellena could never express a desire to los e her virginity and not die a maid and certainly could not articulate a desire to do so with a haste to lose no time (242). The freedom of voice permitted by Hellenas masculine guise enchants Willmore, who grows increasingly desirous of possessing h er and quickly proposes that they retire and fall to (242). Hellena,


18 however, insists that they be married first and when he continues to protest, she argues, what shall I get? a cradle full of noise and mischief, with a pack of repentance at my back? (242), showing an awareness of sexual intercourse and its outcomes that an appropriately feminine character of the upper class would not admit to. In the end, Hellena succeeds, Willmore agrees to the marriage, and they finally exchange names to seal the bargain (243). This exchange symbolically ends Hellenas usurpation of the freedom granted from masculinity, because it reveals her identity. Had she been restricted within the bounds of femininity from the start, Hellena would not have been able to open ly negotiate and thus would have been unable to convince Willmore to marry. Furthermore, if Hellena remained within the lines of female gender expectations, Willmore could have fallen into his rakish ways and taken advantage of her as he attempted to do w ith the near rape of the passive Florinda (201203). Thus, Hellena is ironically only able to maintain the purity expected of women by leaving the confines of femininity and using the masculine. In order to have the agency necessary to achieve her goal and marry her handsome proper fellow (160), Hellena must cross the boundary of the feminine as the transvestism of the breeches part allows her to do. A similar use of the breeches part occurs in Behns The Widow Ranter and much like The Rover there are tw o instances of cross dressing: the Widow Ranter and the Indian Queen. However, the Indian Queen is about as negligible as Florinda, because her breeches part serves more as a plot device than anything else. In Act V, scene iii, the Queen enters dressed as an Indian warrior


19 as a group of Indians lead her to her escape from Bacons camp. The Queen does not stray from the behavioral norms of her sex with her disguise and is instead, like Florinda, the typical model of femininity, adhering to the expectation of chaste virtue throughout the play rather than gaining agency as Ranter does. Even during the breeches part, the Queen acknowledges her complete passive femininity: I have no Amazonian fire about me, all my artillery is sighs and tears . . ( Ranter 317). She does not possess the masculine characteristics of the Amazons and instead relies on the soft, feminine sighs and tears. The Queen also lacks a goal to achieve and is instead conflicted about her desires, torn between honoring her husband and giving in to her love for Bacon. In the end, the Queen is simply sacrificed to achieve the tragic part of Behns tragicomedy. The Queens male disguise lasts long enough for her to be wounded in the confusion of batt le, and as soon as she receives indiv idual attention she is instantly recognized (318). Her male guise only serves to further and give reason for her death. The Widow Ranter, however, constantly breaks from the expectations of feminine gender roles, gathering agency in the process. The economic independence afforded to Ranter by her widowhood allows her a freedom of voice and behavior that Hellena can only gain through transvestism (Bacon 435). She is first described by Friendly to Hazard as a great gallant ( Ranter 255), an adjective typic ally associated with masculinity. Moreover, she smokes and drinks all day, again adopting masculine behavior instead of the soft femininity her place as a woman should dictate. She further deviates from feminine norms, earlier


20 established with an analysi s of Florindas character, when she announces, I bar love making within my territories (276). Having forbidden wooing, Ranter has essentially forbidden romance and with it an aspect of feminine nature. Todd superbly summarizes Ranters character, highl ighting the fact that she embodies a more masculinized type of femininity: Ranter is a roistering woman. As such, she lives high, giving gargantuan banquets to anyone of a jolly disposition, smoking and drinking in the morning, downing pints of punch thr ough the day, riding like a man in the evening, and roundly abusing her servants like a lord. (Secret 416) No man, Ranter acknowledges, would approach such a woman with romantic intentions such a man would be a miracle ( Ranter 266). Thus, Ranters bois terous and raucous behavior separates her from her feminine propriety long before she actually disguises herself as a man. Contrary to Hellena, who uses her outspokenness to confront her brothers masculine authority over her, Ranters forward behavior only repulses the patriarchy and figures of masculine authority. This complicates Ranters agency because the use of it through her free behavior also prevents her from exercising her will to gain a husband; again a firm notion of feminine agency is difficu lt to pinpoint because the Ranter seems to both have and lack agency at the same time. Though Ranter seems unabashed by the effects of her behavior, she is upset that Daring, the object of Ranters passion, ignores her in favor of her friend, Chrisante who represents a more traditional model of femininity. Even


21 though Ranter is praised as goodnatured and generous ( Ranter 255), her less thanfeminine nature creates a stark contrast with Chrisantes demure femininity. Chrisante models the soft, quiet nat ure expected of women, scarcely speaking throughout the play, especially in comparison to the outspoken Ranter. Chrisante also fits the expectation that women should be modest, as Daring indicates when he explains, she denies me so obligingly she keeps m y love still in its humble calm (307). Recognizing that s he cannot compete with Chrisante in the realm of the feminine, Ranter decides instead to take action: Pox on it, no; why should I sigh and whine, and make myself an ass, and [Daring] conceited? N o, instead of snivelling Im resolved . . Gad, to beat the rascal, and bring off Chrisante ( Ranter 307). Ranter realizes that sighing and waiting for Daring to take note of her as would be appropriately womanly has gotten her no where, she dons the g uise of a man, which enables Ranter to take action as a woman cannot. She uses her wit to trick Daring into bringing her into Chrisantes presence and letting Chrisante choose between Daring and the male Ranter (308). Ranter is aware that Chrisante has no feelings for Daring, her role as woman granting Ranter at least that intimate knowledge, and she uses it to her advantage to force Daring to yield in his pursuit of Chrisante (309). However, Ranters ruse is soon discovered, and when told he should marry Ranter, Daring jests, Ranter gad, Id sooner marry a she bear, unless for a penance for some horrid sin; we should be eternally challenging one another to the field, and ten to one she beats me there; or if I should escape


22 there, she would kill me w ith drinking. . Then such a tongue shell rail and smoke till she choke again, then six gallons of punch hardly recovers her, and never but then is she goodnatured. (309 310) Daring picks out all of Ranters masculine characteristics that are unseemly in a woman and even at times make her more manly than he is (believing she could beat him in the field). Admiring the pains Ranter took to acquire Darings love, he decides to marry her (310). However, he insists that Ranter remain in the garb of a man: Nay, prithee, take me in the humour, while thy breeches are on for I never liked thee half so well in petticoats (310). While humorous, Darings request suggests that Ranter is preferable as a man. Ranter achieves her goal of marriage through c ross dressing, because the guise of masculinity puts her unfeminine character traits in a more appropriate context. However, as I have stated, Hellena and Ranters agency through self determination is not without complication. In a discussion of literar y crossdressing in her book Masquerade and Gender: Disguise and Female Identity in EighteenthCentury Fictions by Women, Catherine Craft Fairchild claims that at most, transvestite masquerade offers a temporary escape for the characters in the role of t he breeches part (172). This is certainly the case for Hellena, who alters her femininity in order to achieve her goal of securing a husband. Once she is engaged to Willmore, cross dressing is no longer necessary for Hellena; she has achieved her goal on her terms and can now return to being a woman. Moreover, as soon as Hellena is officially engaged to Willmore, she becomes an


23 attainable object for his desire because she will soon no longer deny him sexual gratification. CraftFairchild asserts that once a woman becomes a spectacle or fetish for the mans pleasure, masquerade does not alter womens status it leaves them inscribed in the dominant economy as objects of male vision and masculine desire (53). Hellena has become subject to Willmores desire for her and so the identity shielding aspect of disguise is shattered, mitigating the need for Hellena to retain her masculine disguise. This merely means that Hellena is likely to set aside her masculine attire; she still used cross dressing to escape from norms of femininity and attain her goal. It is simply that, having acquired her goal, Hellena no longer has a need for cross dressing. Ultimately, Hellena uses her agency only to negotiate its loss through marriage, in which she will be the subject of her husband. For Ranter, on the other hand, there is some doubt of the temporality of her cross dressing. Transvestism has resolved her character flaws, making them more appropriate, and her husband does not prefer her in petticoats. She spends ne arly all the remainder of the play in male garb, and her dress in the concluding scene remains ambiguous. The stage direction indicates that Ranter enters as as before ( Ranter 322). However, there is some question as to what before indicates. Before could refer to the previous scenes in which case Ranter is in male garb, but it could also indicate her female dress prior to the crossdressing. Also, she does not seem to be much of an object of desire for her husband; there is little to no sexual connotation to their dialogue as there is between Hellena and Willmore, so Craft Fairchilds protests are moot here. For


24 Ranter, the change may allow her to escape female gender expectations more permanently. Nevertheless, like Hellena, Ranter has negotiated f or the loss of her agency through marriage. While Hellena seems to intentionally depart from traditional norms of femininity in order oppose the patriarchal control the men in her life hold over her, Ranters transgression seems more unintentional, pushi ng away men and repulsing the patriarchy with her wildly inappropriate behavior. For Hellena, the breeches part is an escalation in her violation of expected behavior in women, but for Ranter cross dressing resolves her preexisting breech of femininity. Nevertheless, both women are able to disguise themselves as men and successfully obtain the object of their desire in marriage, contrary to what the patriarchal structures in either play would dictate to them as appropriate. The breeches part allows Hellena and the Widow Ranter to stray from the appropriate models of feminine behavior in a socially acceptable way. The breeches part itself (as well as the masculinity it allows) helps the characters achieve this acceptability; the breeches part is just that, a part which implies that the role was a common and accepted convention of theater. Thus, Hellena and Ranter are able to be outspoken and pursue their desires and goals openly without risk of social censure a luxury Behn herself might have liked to enj oy. For both characters we see the development of their respective agencies. Hellena begins by removing herself from the authority of her brother and insisting on her own independence and her right to choose her own path in life. She realizes this desire for self determination through the freedom of movement,


25 voice and behavior that masculine part of cross dressing permits. She develops this over the course of the play until she is finally able attain her goal of negotiating her own marriage. Meanwhile, Widow Ranter begins with some of the aspects of agency that Hellena gains: freedom of movement, voice, and behavior. And while she enjoys these abilities, they also prohibit her from exercising her own will and thus from further developing her version of agency. This leads her to transvestism, which makes her behavior more appropriate and allows her to also marry. In the following chapter we will see the sense of feminine agency develop still further, building on some of the above aspects while altering others. For Mrs. Warren and Vivie, the need for self determination grows stronger as does freedom of voice. However, rather than using the ability to exercise will to negotiate for marriage and thus loss of agency, Mrs. Warren and Vivie develop a control of their sexuality that enhances their agency. The economic independence of Widow Ranter will become an even more important part of both Mrs. Warrens and Vivies versions of agency, but rather than holding them back as it initially does Ranter, it only empowers Mrs. Warren and Vivie. Despite some of the similarities in method, Mrs. Warren and Vivie will arrive at agencies that differ drastically from Hellena and Ranter as well as from one another.


26 Chapter 2: Developing Agency in George Bernard Shaws Mrs. Warrens Profession In Mrs. Warrens Profession, George Bernard Shaw constructs a critique of British society for the conditions it supports that allow and encourage prostitution, and in the process, according to Peter Raby, Shaw incriminates t he whole of society in the business of prostitution (200). The play explores this issue through two heroines, Mrs. Warren and Vivie, and their relationship as mother and daughter. While Mrs. Warren in her role as prostitute and madam is the vehicle for S haws representation of prostitution, Shaw presents her in a sympathetic light, refusing to demonize and condemn Mrs. Warren or her (off stage) sister Liz for escaping from penury and exploitation by taking control of their only assets, their bodies (Raby 200). Vivie, meanwhile, contrasts Mrs. Warrens forwardness with her sense of moral propriety. Interestingly, despite this obvious contrast in characters, Mrs. Warren and Vivie share some striking similarities: both women are bold in their individual manners and both pursue careers. As a result, Mrs. Warren and Vivie are able to gain agency by stepping outside of traditional Victorian femininity and encroaching on the masculine. Ultimately, observing these two characters reveals, not some single def inition of agency being achieved, but the fluidity of female agency, which we see as it develops for these two women. Drawing on some of the same aspects of agency


27 as Behns characters (self determination, voice), Mrs. Warren and Vivie pair them with diff erent methods to different effect. Instead of the use of the masculine through cross dressing, Mrs. Warren and Vivie intrude further on a more established masculine public sphere through professionalism. Ultimately they gain agencies that are more lasting and extensive than those of Hellena and Ranter, which are negotiated away. Before continuing, I would like to establish a picture of the typical role for women from which Mrs. Warren and Vivie depart. In her book, Silent Sisterhood, Patricia Branca studies the life of the middleclass Victorian woman. Branca focuses on married women in particular because, as she argues, marriage provided the most typical role for the middleclass woman in the nineteenth century (2). Branca begins by recounting the typical depiction of Victorian women as providers of the proper environment of respectability for their husbands, a duty which required them to be righteous, gentle, sympathetic, and most of all submissive (7). Branca also notes certain laws that placed V ictorian women at a disadvantage compared to their husbands by granting them no existence in common law apart from the husband (7). Womens wages and ability to own property were turned over to their husbands, divorce for women was nearly impossible, and women had no right to their children (78). Such laws were later reformed with the Matrimonial Causes Acts of 1857 and 1878 as well as additional legislation in the latter half of the century (89). While women were largely dependent on their husbands, Branca argues that our view of the Victorian woman has been distorted by over focusing on negatives. She


28 proposes that middleclass Victorian women played vital, highly involved roles in the domestic sphere of their households and families and that women had power in their occupation as directors of their households, controlling such aspects as the household budget (22). As a result, Branca asserts that the middleclass housewife was thus an active agent in the family (22). More recently, Lyn Pykett has similarly defined the feminine norm [as] . the middleclass wife and mother (12); however, unlike Branca, Pyketts study focuses on the women who have deviated from that norm, such as the New Woman. Pykett argues that the debate over the Woman Question was waged on the site of the dominant definition of the proper feminine the ideal of the domestic ideology, according to which woman was defined primarily in terms of her reproductive and domestic functions with the developing bourgeois family (12). Drawing from Coventry Patmores widely popularized ideal of the Angel in the House, Pykett notes that women were the guardian[s] of the newly moralized and privatized domestic haven that was kept at a remove from the public sphere in which men w ere immersed (12). Victorian society subscribed to an ideology of the separate spheres in which women ideally reigned over the domestic, while men exercised [their] power in the hazardous, hostile, public domain (1213). This Victorian ideology operates interestingly in Mrs. Warrens Profession when Vivie rejects the domestic in favor of a more welcoming public sphere and Mrs. Warren does not simply deviate from normative social spheres, but instead collapses them.


29 Along with Branca and Pykett, Mary P oovey places the typical role of the Victorian middleclass woman within the domestic. In Uneven Developments, Poovey offers perhaps the best definition of this Victorian domestic ideal of women who were represented as protecting and, increasingly, incar nating virtue following the midcentury (10). This creates the middle class ideology that informs the characters of Mrs. Warren and Vivie, whose versions of agency deviate from the norm. Poovey accounts for this development when she claims that The middle class ideology we most often associate with the Victorian period was both contested and always under construction; because it was always in the making it was always open to revision, dispute, and the emergence of oppositional formulations. (3) As a result, this constant shifting allows Mrs. Warrens Profession to illustrate a sense of female agency that is continuously developing rather than remaining static. Branca, Pykett, and Poovey position the typical Victorian woman in the domestic sphere where wom en are gentle, passive and dependent. While a certain amount of power is available for such women, it exists principally in the private sphere. Here women have authority over the household, controlling aspects such as servants and budgeting. However, thi s empowerment was restricted to the private sphere, and as a result women often lacked independent


30 thought, mobility, and self determination.10 Shaw strays from this version of the middle class female and develops a picture of women as public agents, first with Mrs. Warren who has a foot in both the private and public spheres and then with Vivie who rejects the private in favor of the public.11 Much like Mrs. Warren and Vivie, Victorian actresses were women able to gain agency by escaping the bounds of societys expectations of femininity that remains in the private sphere. Thus, by playing the parts of characters like Mrs. Warren and Vivie actresses take on dual positions: at once allowing the play to exist as an archive of social change through the actress es representation of female characters gaining agency and also engaging in and enacting social change through their careers as actresses. 12 10 In Cassandra Florence Nightengales narrator confronts the state of idleness enforced by womens restriction to the private, domestic sphere: Why have women passion, intellect, moral activity these three and a place in society where no one of the three can be exercised (25). She bemoans the fact that women have nothing to do, repeating the phrase until it drones much like these womens lives must (32, 34, 36) and equates the state with death (38, 41). John Stuart Mill is also oppo sed to the norms faced by Victorian women and likens the state of women to slavery (223 233). Moreover, according to Mill, society has carefully nurtured slavish submission in women: All women are brought up from the very earliest years in the belief that their ideal of character is the very opposite to that of men; not self will, and government by self control, but submission, and yielding to the control of others (232). Kerry Powells monograph Women and Victorian Theatre focuses on the challenge women, both actresses and playwrights, faced in the maledominated world of the Victorian theatre. While Powell specifically focuses on women in theatrical professions, his book also 11 This framework of public versus private agency is a new development not found in Behn, primarily due to the fact that the separate spheres were a distinctly Victorian concept. However, we could view Behns work as oddly straddling the public and private, precursory to the more developed Victorian ideals. The ladies of The Rover w alk the streets in masquerade, and the Widow Ranter traipses around a battlefi eld (public), w hereas both womens agencies are very wrapped up in marriage (private). 12 Similar, in a way, to their Restoration forbearers, who themselves enacted social chan ge by opening the stage and thus a profession to women.


31 provides useful insight into the condition of the Victorian woman in general. In one such instance, Powell cl aims that For women throughout the Victorian period the stage possessed a unique allure. It afforded the active, disciplined life and potentially the financial rewards of a profession, one of few then accessible to women. Even more importantly in some c ases, a life in the theatre offered women a voice the ability to speak compellingly while others, including men, sat in enforced silence . Actresses could be intoxicated by their control over audiences, and in particular over men, who in most other s ituations reserved power for themselves and compelled women to silence. (3) Powells statement explores the benefits of becoming an actress and reveals by contrast what Victorian women could typically expect from their roles in society: silence, passivity and dependence on men. The middle class Victorian woman was restricted by the prominent angel in the house ideal and thus confined to what Powell labels the narrow domesticity which ordinarily defined femininity (13). The typical Victorian middle c lass woman, with little voice and hope of financial security independent of men, lacked the agency to exert much power or a will of her own. However, becoming an actress was not without risk. The fact that such a career allowed actresses to differ from t he typical Victorian woman also worked against them since the opposite of the ideal domestic angel was a whore. Actresses found themselves caught in this dichotomy and were forced to face the loss of respectability that could accompany their profession.


32 Nevertheless, a career as an actress enabled women to possess a public voice and the hope of financial self sufficiency, and thus actresses were able to achieve agency outside of the domestic sphere. Similarly, Mrs. Warren and Vivie are able to gain agenc y by moving away from Victorian feminine norms while negotiating the risks of such a deviation. Like the actresses that play their characters, Mrs. Warren and Vivie find agency through the pursuit of a profession. For the Victorian middle class, work was principally the province of men, and women were relegated to the domestic sphere of the household. With few exceptions, women who pursued professional lives infringed on the male sphere. Powell notes this sentiment in the fears that the actress raised f or Victorian men: This medley of fear and admiration was rooted in a nervous perception that the exceptional actress could and sometimes did work free of the constraints of her gender, trespassing on the territory of men (14). Work generated financial i ndependence, which in turn allowed Victorian women to exercise their own will, but the woman who was capable of asserting herself and claiming authority was viewed as having stepped outside the bounds of femininity, even to the point of being found masculi ne. As American theatre critic William Winter cautions his audience, you might resent [the actresss] dominance, and shrink from it, calling it masculine (qtd. in Powell 14). Actresses, having gained self sufficiency through profession and strong voi ce through performance, could be viewed as a threat by men. As Winters statement indicates, it is then tempting for the masculine audience to alter the actresss femininity by labeling her masculine in an attempt to reconcile the


33 females intrusion into the masculine public sphere. Similarly, it is this gender mined field which Mrs. Warren and Vivie necessarily tread as they attempt agency through careerism and the complications of dipping into the masculine taint their success. According to Michael Holroyd, From Mrs. Warrens Profession onwards, Shaw campaigned in the theatre for the economic independence of women which would give them the individual choice as to the direction they wished to go (19). Thus, in his play, Shaw offers to paths toward financial freedom for women, developing for Vivie a better professional option than was available to her mother, though for both women financial success enhances their personal agency. Mrs. Warren gains her agency off stage, so that by the time the audience fir st becomes acquainted with her, she has already established her power and the audience is left to simply observe its application. This creates an interesting situation within the play since it is Vivie whose journey we truly follow despite Mrs. Warren bei ng the titular character. This not only allows us to observe agency across a generation (from Mrs. Warren to Vivie), but Mrs. Warrens development off stage allows her the additional authority of telling her own story thus becoming self authoring. In inv estigating the ideological work of gender difference, Mary Poovey finds that because it fixed males identity as superior, the binary opposition between the sexes was more important than any other kinds of difference that real women might experience. And this depended, among other things, on limiting womens right to define or describe themselves (80). Shaw neatly circumvents this limitation by focusing his play on Vivies


34 development, which in turn allows Mrs. Warren to tell the audience her story in h er own words because she is the only one with knowledge of her background. Mrs. Warren uses that power of knowledge to define herself not as a fallen woman but as a woman who has risen: as she tells Vivie her story, Mrs. Warren makes it clear that she elev ated herself to a higher position through her career choice. Had the action of the play followed Mrs. Warrens story, this would not have been possible; Victorian social prejudice would have seen little more than a prostitute. However, by claiming author ship of her story, Mrs. Warren gains agency through voice.13Off stage, Mrs. Warren initially gains power through her profession, which is never much of a mystery, even from the beginning of the play when Vivie and Praeds conversation hints at Mrs. Warren s prostitution. In modern society, it would be easy to see prostitution as a position lacking in power and agency. However, as Deborah Anna Logan notes in her book, Fallenness in Victorian Womens Writing most Victorian prostitutes actively choose their profession (66). Logan principally focuses on working class women and further observes the disturbing fact that . many women had no other options from which to choose (66). Mrs. Warrens frustrated explanation to Vivie of her choice in profession supports Logans assertions: Two of us were sisters: that was me and Liz; and we were both goodlooking and well made . . The other two were only half 13 This is reminiscent of the use of disguise by Hellena and the Widow Ranter, who author themselves through appearance by choosing the way they are presented to the public (in cross dress), an appearance that allows them to exercise voice to become even more self determining.


35 sisters . They were the respectable ones. Well, what did they get by their respectability? Ill tell you. One of them worked in a whitelead factory twelve hours a day for nine shillings a week until she died of lead poisoning. She only expected to get her hands a little paralyzed; but she died. The other was always held up to us as a model because she married a Government laborer . and kept his room and the three children neat and tidy on eighteen shillings a week until he took to drink. That was worth being respectable for wasnt it? (Shaw 61) Mrs. Warren illustrates for her daughter the options available to working class women: work or marriage. Neither option offers a favorable outcome; female factory workers were worked to death, and marriage rendered women too dependent on their husbands. As Sos Eltis explains, Mrs. Warrens situation is not . a question of sexual morality but of simple economics; society left her with the immoral choice between starvation and slow death working in a white lead factory, or prostitution (229). Thus, Mrs. Warren and her sister elected an option that could provide them with better lives.14 14 The presentation of prostitution as a better option for working class girls is by no means unique to Shaw. Consider, for example, Thomas Hardys The Ruined Maid published a f ew decades earlier in 1866. The poem is a dialogue between two girls, with the first speaker cataloging the changes in Melia since last they met: Melias tatters have changed to gay bracelets and bright feathers (5 8), pawlike hands and a sickly complexion to gloves and the healthy blush of a delicate cheek (13 16), etc. She concludes with the observation that Melias previous life, which was a hagridden dream has become full of prosperity free of ills (17 20). To all of these remarks, Melia replies that that is simply the way life is when ruined (20). This highlights the contrast between ideology and reality; society dictates that a fall results in the ruination of a woman, but ruin has only brought Melia a better life, much like it does for Mrs. Warren. Prostitution allowed Mrs. Warren the power brought by being financially independent which in turn afforded


36 her agency through the freedom to do as she willed. Moreover, Mrs. Warren values this agency because it all ows her to economically transcend her class to enjoy the wealthy middleclass lifestyle we see in the play, although, as I will show later in this chapter, the role social mobility plays in Mrs. Warrens life complicates her agency more than adds to it. H owever, Mrs. Warren does not stop with a simple career as a prostitute; instead she develops her career into a thriving business. While prostitution is one of the few professions available to women, work, as part of the public sphere, was typically the domain of men. A businesswoman was certainly not the Victorian norm, and through this career path, Mrs. Warren trod on territory that usually belonged to men. As Crofts describes Mrs. Warren to Vivie, she has a genius for managing and acts as the managing director for their business enterprises, not positions or abilities Victorian women were usually thought to possess (76). Men who operate in the public sphere and work earn their money through business and investment, but for a woman to do so is cert ainly unconventional. And yet, Mrs. Warren has created a thriving empire of whores and brothels across Europe with Crofts, running an internationally based business. It is this path that allows Mrs. Warren to exercise her agency; her business savvy elevates her lifestyle through the resulting economic gain. Keeping up her business also allows Mrs. Warren to exercise her own will; as she admits to her daughter, she enjoys her business, rather than desiring what society expects of women (to retire into good society like her sister) (95). Having become independently wealthy through business, Mrs. Warren prefers to


37 remain there rather than retiring to the more appropriately feminine private sphere. When Vivie criticizes her mother for remaining in a disrepu table business despite being wealthy enough to retire, Mrs. Warren defends herself: I must have work and excitement, or I should go melancholy mad. And what else is there for me to do? The life suits me: Im fit for it and not for anything else. . And then it brings in money; and I like making money (95). Ultimately, Mrs. Warren prefers work, a characteristic Victorian society ascribes to middle class men not women. By insisting on remaining in business, Mrs. Warren exercises the agency she has ac hieved by asserting her own will and right of self determination. Furthermore, it is the empowerment that comes with financial success that enables Mrs. Warren to exercise that agency in the first place, and her masculine desire to work and remain in the public sphere allows her to preserve that. From this atypical careerism, Mrs. Warren further strays from societys expectations of women. Mrs. Warrens control over her sexuality empowers her in a way that traditional femininity cannot, since sexually act ive women are typically either married and thus subject to their husbands rule or socially outcaste. She wields this control as a powerful tool most obviously by using her sexuality to establish her business. Moreover, she builds her business into an e mpire by expanding her control to the sexuality of other women, extending her power over others. Lastly, in a culture where maternity was the most highly valued of womens abilities (Logan 7), Mrs. Warren experiences motherhood while deviating from the social norm. Yet, similar to the use of her background


38 as a story of rising rather than falling, Mrs. Warren is able to use the illegitimacy of her child to her benefit. She has never revealed her childs parentage, and thus uses the identity of Vivies father as a means of asserting her control. Logan claims that by the late Victorian period, the Woman Question acquired yet another aspect as debates raged over the New Womens desires to exercise control over their sexuality and reproduction (190). In Mrs. Warren, we find a precursor to this aspect of the New Woman that will be further developed in the next generation, Vivie. By controlling and utilizing her sexuality for her own ends, Mrs. Warren claims authority over her body and agency for herself. However, the definition of agency for Mrs. Warren is not static and simply based on her actions prior to the play and her retelling of them. Instead Mrs. Warren adds to our concept of agency so that it encompasses her sense of self respect. When V ivie questions whether or not her mother would advise her to work or marry honestly were they in a similar situation to the one Mrs. Warren faced when young, Mrs. Warren negates the idea and explains why: Of course not. What sort of mother do you take me for! How could you keep your self respect in such starvation and slavery? And whats a woman worth? whats life worth? without self respect! Why am I independent and able to give my daughter a first rate education, when other women that had just as good opportunities are in the gutter? Because I always knew how to respect myself and control myself. (Shaw 64.)


39 For Mrs. Warren, selfrespect is essential for a womans life to be worthwhile, and she gained this through prostitution, which Eltis claims was t he only profession which paid enough to maintain ones self respect (229). With her exclamation, Mrs. Warren asserts that her self respect is what allowed her to gain independence, which is in turn part of her agency. As a result, Mrs. Warren has inextr icably tied self respect to her manifestation of female agency. And Mrs. Warren certainly seems to have that self respect; when Vivie asks her if she feels shame, Mrs. Warren ultimately concludes, I never was a bit ashamed really. I consider that I had a right to be proud that we managed everything so respectably, and never had a word against us, and that the girls were so well taken care of (65). Rather than shame, Mrs. Warren professes a pride in her work indicative of the self respect she insists on, a self respect that ultimately leads her to refuse to give up her work even when faced with Vivies shaming and condemnation of it (95). Nevertheless, it is the notion of shame that complicates Mrs. Warrens agency. Peter Raby assert s that Shaw sketches with deft economy a society that both permits, even promotes, prostitution and yet claims that it does not exist (200). Mrs. Warrens conflictedness is a symptom of that hypocrisy as she both revels in her profession and seeks to hide it away. Mrs. Warrens speech from above is full of such contradictions. Mrs. Warren initially answers Vivies question with, Well, of course, dearie, its only good manners to be ashamed of it, its expected from a woman (Shaw 65). This sense of shame in her career path would seem to negate the idea that Mrs. Warren respects herself, and yet


40 Mrs. Warren quickly reverses this shame, claiming that women have to pretend to feel a great deal that they dont feel (65) This implies that the shame she initially professes is a mere pretence for societys sake. Yet, later even as she claims to not be ashamed at all, Mrs. Warren concludes her speech by hushing herself: But of course now I darent talk about such things: whatever would they think of us! (65). Is Mrs. Warre n a hypocrite claiming self respect while actually feeling shame? Instead, I would argue that Mrs. Warrens apparent hypocrisy is simply a symptom of her need to balance the complications her agency has brought about. On the one hand, she values and takes pride in her profession as the means of her independence. On the other, that independence has elevated her station in society to that of the upper middle class, a position Mrs. Warren also values and fears to lose. Thus, we find this strange combination of shamed and unashamed in her character. In order to maintain her position in society, Mrs. Warren must be both at once. She needs to maintain a ladylike appearance of shame, hiding away her true nature lest she lose her standing and, as a result, her pr ide in her achievements. Vivie points this contradiction out to Mrs. Warren during their argument in the final act: If I had been you, mother, I might have done as you did; but I should not have lived one life and believed in another. You are a conventi onal woman at heart (97). Mrs. Warren claims self respect as a part of agency but must hide away what she is out of shame and fear of losing her position in society; thus, even as her agency seems to allow her to escape the restrictions Victorian society places on females, Mrs. Warren finds herself still bound.


41 This need to maintain upper middle class status through the appearance of respectability also influences Mrs. Warrens relationship with her daughter. Mrs. Warren very deliberately instilled conventional values in Vivie by having her raised and educated away from the daily workings of her mothers business life. As J. Ellen Gainor notes, Mrs. Warren has also been operating under the assumption that Vivie will conform to her ideal of conventional womanhood by marrying and experiencing an adulthood quite different from her own. . Mrs. Warren wants Vivie to be her opposite (36). However, this goes beyond Mrs. Warrens desire for her daughter to live a better life, since it is important to Mrs. Warren that Vivie maintains her own respectability, because her daughters actions affect Mrs. Warrens standing in the upper echelons of society. Mrs. Warren fears the signs of unconventionality that she witnesses in her daughter and seeks to rein her i n, declaring, Your way of life will be what I please, so it will (58) However, Vivie defies her mothers will in favor of her own. Unlike Mrs. Warren, Vivie does not seek to impose her will on others, claiming that she shall always respect [Mrs. Warr ens] right to [her] own opinions and [her] own way of life (60). Mrs. Warren does not share Vivies respect for others abilities to be self determining, and she is horrified when she realizes that her daughter is diverging from the careful shaping Mrs. Warren has provided: Havent I told you that I want you to be respectable? Havent I brought you up to be respectable? And how can you keep it up without my money and my influence and Lizzies friends? Cant you


42 see that youre cutting your own throat as well as breaking my heart in turning your back on me? (94) Mrs. Warren fears that Vivies rejection of the private sphere, family, and her upbringing in favor of a public profession will mean the loss of Vivies respectability. More importantly, Mrs. Warren recognizes that Vivies actions will affect societys perceptions not just of Vivie but also of Mrs. Warren. It is dangerous for Vivie to pursue an alternate lifestyle because it could damage her mothers social standing.15 Mrs. Warrens agency faces further complications from the method she employs to obt ain it. She claims that her profession has allowed her to become independent, but there is a dependency to prostitution that belies this aspect of Mrs. Warrens agency. While any business is reliant on the patronage of its customers, prostitution puts those it employs in a more precarious position, since their lack of respectability prevents them from finding other means of supporting themselves should their business fail. There is also some lack of agency in Mrs. Warrens choice of profession in that there was no true choice at all: prostitution was the only option Mrs. Warren found viable. Furthermore, agency is to some degree dependent on ones position in society; in order to exercise independence This concern negatively impa cts Mrs. Warrens power of self determination, because it reveals that the social standing (through which she maintains her agency) is actually determined by other people. 15 Although Mrs. Warren fears the loss of respectability an unmarried, working woman might attract, her solution for Vivie, marriage, is not much better than the path Mrs. Warren herself follows. Gainor notes that the irony of Mrs. Warrens desire for Vivie to marry lies in its frequent parallel to prostitution; In Mrs. Warrens notion of marriage, Vivie would essentially sell herself to a husband in exchange for being supported no different than prostitution (37).


43 and free will a person must be around other people impossible if outcaste by society. This is why it becomes important for Mrs. Warren to maintain her unique position of being able to hide her profession while moving in respectable circles of society her agency would be of little use if she was shunned b y society and unable to exercise it. After all, the brand of agency being examined in this thesis is womens public agency, but if a woman is not part of the public, whats the point? Ultimately, prostitution is not an acceptable method toward female agency since the risks outweigh the rewards. I imagine few are capable of achieving status like Mrs. Warren, and those that do are left with a complicated balancing act to maintain themselves and their ability to exercise agency. Mrs. Warren claims that the only way for a woman to provide for herself decently is for her to be good to some man that can afford to be good to her (Shaw 64), but marriage denies women public voice while prostitution risks that public independence by creating women unable to exist acceptably in either the public or private spheres. The solution perhaps is to find a means toward agency that exists outside the traditionally feminine path rather than the careful balancing act of Mrs. Warren. It is just such a path that Vivie takes i n her journey shown throughout the play. For two women who are so completely sundered from each other by the end of the play, Vivie and her mother are remarkably similar. Like her mother, Vivies agency is a combination of her freedom of voice, self suff icient financial independence and freedom of will, self respect, and sexual control. As Eltis notes, Both women are independent, energetic, determined and in possession of an excellent head for business. The very same qualities that made Mrs.


44 Warren a bad woman make Vivie a good one. . It is circumstance not character which determines their individual fates (229). Circumstance allows Vivie, unlike her mother, to be raised as an upper middle class woman with the corresponding notions of respectabi lity and to receive an education. As such, it would seem that Vivie has more options available to her than her mothers working class upbringing allowed. Yet, if Vivie wishes to remain respectable and to fulfill her mothers designs, her options are actually restricted to a domestic lifestyle society deems appropriate for middle class women. The education afforded by Mrs. Warrens success allows Vivie to pursue an alternate path in life, quite different than her mothers, but in order to have a career Viv ie must diverge from her conventional upbringing. This deviation and Vivies insistence on living in the public sphere ultimately lead her to be able to take the same elements of agency found in Mrs. Warren and further develop them into her own version of agency. Vivie is, as Mr. Praed notes in the opening scene, very much a modern young [lady] (Shaw 33).16 16 J. Ellen Gainor claims that Vivies characterization can likely be attributed to Shaws friend, Beatrice Webb, whom he admired for her commitment to her work and to the Fabian cause, as well as her lack of sexual sentimentality (33). From the outset, Vivie defies traditional notions of femininity (what Praed calls maidenly reserve) and is instead a vigorous businesslike woman whose words are almost always sharp and direct (33, 31). Despite her own business savvy, Mrs. Warren frequently fails to understand that this is an essential part of Vivies nature. Instead Mrs. Warren appeals to her daughter to be more typically feminine because this is what she needs Vivie to


45 be. When she attempts to sway Vivie to her side once more, Mrs. Warren tempts Vivie with promises: [my money] means a new dress every day; it means theatres and balls every night; it means having the pick of al l the gentlemen in Europe at your feet; it means a lovely house and plenty of servants . . I know what young girls are (93). Even as Mrs. Warren rejects this conventional version of middleclass womanhood for herself by refusing to retire into respec tability, she tries to insist upon convention for Vivie. But Mrs. Warrens self interest blinds her to the reality of Vivies character, and her promises reveal how little she knows her daughter. Her promises would appeal to a traditionally feminine young woman, but Vivie falls into the category of New Woman and values the public life of work and business rather than idle pleasures and the private sphere. Mrs. Warrens Profession was written in 1893, and, as Sally Ledger notes, the term New Woman was coi ned the following year (9), a timeline that positions Vivie within the emerging category. 17 17 Though written in 1893, the play was on ly performed eight years following due to moral protests and censorship. Although initially conceptualized as a means of ridiculing women who diverged from the middle class norm, the application of the term unwittingly prised open a di scursive space for women fitting the description of New Woman (9). The depiction of the New Woman varied greatly, for example one might be a champion of free love while another is more sexually circumspect (11). Those who defended the New Woman beli eved that there should be more available to women than marriage and


46 motherhood and advocated the opening of professions to women (1112). The New Woman was frequently cast as opposed to marriage and sexually licentious (12); while only the former might apply to Vivie, it is the fear of the loss of respectability brought by being associated with such an image that drives Mrs. Warrens anxiety. Ledger also notes that elsewhere she figured in discourse as a mannish, asexual biological type, taking on s uch behaviors as wearing college ties, and smoking (16). Detractors saw the development of the New Woman as a threat, one often blamed on education (17), while supporters saw the New Woman as a natural evolution to be desired (23), and the New Woman became a prominent part of early feminism in late Victorian England. Vivie, as Eltis notes, with her firm handshake, mathematics degree and cigarettesmoking, whisky drinking habits encompasses many of the traits of New Woman (230), but I argue that she exhibits them in such a way as to neither condemn nor advocate the role of New Woman, creating an interestingly neutral character. Thus, Vivies escape from traditional femininity into the modern role of New Woman is what gives Vivies character much of i ts strength as well as some of her flaws. In her own declaration of agency, Vivie tells her mother, I shall always respect your right to your own opinions and your own way of life (Shaw 60). These words do not simply apply to Mrs. Warren, but as Vivie has previously claimed her own way of life, these are rights that Vivie also claims for herself. Agency for Vivie is freedom of voice and will. She relentlessly employs her voice to gain her own way against her mother, countering her mothers will and


47 assertion of motherly rights and coldly arguing for her own right to live as she desires and not under her mothers whims. Moreover, she is able to use her logic to penetrate her mothers self invention, overpowering her mothers use of voice as agency with her own. For instance, following Mrs. Warrens speech entreating Vivie to accept her money, Vivie responds, You must have said all that to many a woman, mother, to have it so pat (93). She calls her mother on her lack of depth and acting, thus gaining the upper hand, which allows Vivie to gain her own way and split from her mother in the end. Moreover, Vivie makes herself heard publically by forthrightly voicing her own thoughts and opinions with near strangers like Praed and Crofts. This trait is evident in Vivie from the opening scene, when she plainly states her thoughts on schooling and her mother (30 37). Her forwardness startles Praed, who perhaps expects her to be more conventionally demure, and also begins to establish her as a New Woman. New Women were often criticized for their ability to be forward in conversation with men (Ledger 13), but rather than acting to her detriment this trait grants her voice in the public arena and thus strengthens her agency. Vivies agency through voice is tied to her insistence on her own will or her way of life. Her will is her desire to pursue a career and thus enable herself to become financially self sufficient. While she is dependent on others for monetary support, Vivies ability to exert her will is limited, but a profession provides the means for independence. By the end of the play, Vivie has settled into a career as an accountant, claiming that in the future [she] shall support [her]self (Shaw 92). Being financially self sufficient allows Vivie the agency to assert her own


48 will, permitting her to go [her] own way in [her] own business and among [her] own friends (92, emphasis mine). Through business Vivie is able to become her own person free of her mothers support and thus of her mother s control. But Vivie is not entirely free of her mothers influence, and she admits that in her pursuit of business she is her mothers daughter, saying I am like you: I must have work, and must make more money than I spend. But my work is not your wo rk, and my way not your way (95). Even as she recognizes their similarities, however, Vivie insists on her own will, an act she is capable of because of the independence her career affords her. Gainor also notes the similarity in career path between Mrs Warren and Vivie, pointing out that both women enter their professions through partnership with another woman already established in the business, who showed them the desirability, profitability, and suitability for themselves of the field (38). Vivie s partnership with Honoria mirrors her mothers partnership with her sister Liz. Vivie creates an odd tension by insisting that she is both like and unlike her mother that Gainor sees as having potentially negative consequences through the subtle connecti ons of mother and daughter, Fallen Woman and New Woman (39). However, I would argue that rather than negatively linking the New Woman back to the Fallen Woman, Vivie takes the older model for feminine agency and improves upon it. Rather than diverging from her mothers path, Vivie builds upon it, making her desire for work into a profession that can more respectably exist in the middle class. Economic independence allows these women to have agency, and we see how this aspect develops from a form that mus t be precariously hidden to one that is stronger


49 because can exist in the public eye. With this process a new version of feminine agency emerges in Vivie. Vivies career, as well as providing her with agency by itself, is also tied to her agency through her need for self respect. Building from her mothers insistence on it, self respect drives Vivie to seek her independence through professionalism, thus tying it to her agency. She seeks financial independence in part due to the nature of her mothers money, which Vivie finds tainted by her mothers lack of respectability. But also Vivie attaches self respect to the need to work, as evidenced early on when she expresses her abhorrence of her mother and mothers friends to her beau, Frank: If I thought that I was like that that I was going to be a waster, shifting along from one meal to another with no purpose, and no character, and no grit in me, Id open an artery and bleed to death without one moments hesitation. (Shaw 53). For Vivie to value hers elf she must not live a life of idleness, pleasure and excess, but instead one of purpose one of work. As soon as she begins her career Vivie claims, These two days have given me back all my strength and self possession. I will never take a holiday again as long as I live (82). Vivie regains her sense of self worth as soon as she begins working. For this reason, when Mrs. Warren offers Vivie an idle lifestyle of pleasure, Vivie refuses and explains that [she doesnt] want to be worthless and instead insists that [she] must have work (95). Vivie can only respect herself as long as she is working and earning her own way; only then can she have her version of agency.


50 The final piece to Vivies agency is her developing control of her sexuality. Li ke the New Woman, Vivie rejects marriage, but Shaw keeps her neutral since she does not appear to actually oppose marriage on a larger scale. She begins in a sickening relationship with Frank, in which both take on childlike roles. This farce of a romance masks Franks true intentions to rely on Vivie as a source of money (Shaw 44), a potential pitfall for Vivie were she not already aware of it (57). As the play continues, Vivie rejects Crofts as a potential suitor. He offers her money and position along with the promise to die within a reasonable amount of time, leaving everything to her. However, this mercenary motivation for marriage is merely a slightly more socially acceptable form of prostitution, and Vivie summarily refuses him (75). Later, after coming to the realization that she cares little for Frank sexually, Vivie goes about extricating herself from that relationship as well. When Frank begins to express his desire to maintain their relationship, Vivie completely desexualizes it by claiming t hat brother and sister would be a very suitable relation for [them] (84). Vivies rejection of her mother is also a way for Vivie to exert control of her sexuality, in this case not her own but its mere presence in her life. She began this process earl ier during her argument with Crofts: I hardly find you worth thinking about at all now. When I think of the society that tolerates you, and the laws that protect you when I think of how helpless nine out of ten young girls would be in the hands of you and my mother the unmentionable woman and her capitalist bully . I feel among the damned already. (7879)


51 By rejecting the society that allows prostitution, Vivie also renounces her mother indirectly. When Vivie later insist that she and her mother part ways, Vivie expunges the element of unrespectable sexuality in her life. It is especially important that Vivie do so, since Vivie is choosing the route of celibacy and redundant women were often linked with fallenness (Logan 190). Any associatio n with a disreputable woman could cause Vivie to fall in societys estimation as well. As the play draws to its close, Vivie says goodbye to her mother and to Frank the only two potential sources of sexuality in her life. Logan notes that while some as sociate celibacy with disempowerment some women are able to use it to [assume] sexual agency in a culture wherein reproductive autonomy is aggressively obstructed (57). Like the New Women she is modeled on, Vivie controls her sexuality as a means of agency and essentially renders herself asexual to do so. Both Mrs. Warren and Vivie gain agency; however, as they develop in the play, a problem arises for viewers Shaw has constructed two models for female agency, but neither seem to present a viable opti on for women to follow. This is, in part, because they rely upon perpetually needing to negotiate opposing desires and forces. Mrs. Warrens agency is gained at the cost of respectability and creates a constant tension between her secret and society. Als o, Mrs. Warren is probably the exception rather than the norm; it is highly unlikely that many women would be able to achieve what she has through prostitution. Vivie is a similarly undesirable model, again preventing us from pinpointing a definition of f eminine agency that can be applied generally for women. Gainor argues that


52 Vivie is a prototypical modern young woman who chooses to remain unmarried at the plays conclusion, yet suffers no ill effects for her decision (32). While this is certainly the case, I would argue that the prototype still needs improvement. Although, Vivie has gained agency, her character is hardly something women would aspire to. Her treatment of her mother, complete rejection of culture and romance, and undivided attention to her career shape Vivie into a sort of automaton. Early in the play her mother exclaims, My God, what sort of woman are you? (Shaw 59); while Vivie encroaches on the masculine with her forward behavior and love of work, by the end of the play she har dly seems human, much less a particular sex. Powell notes, The Victorian period was able to tolerate the actress . by confining her within the rhetorical structures of madness, disease, prostitution, deformation, and inhumanity. Seen as sick, depraved, and exotic these independent women could not easily present a serious threat to the social order which in normal circumstances would have rendered them, as women, idle and silent. (47) Perhaps Vivies depiction is a symptom of this anxiety toward women with agency. Regardless, by Vivies example, it would seem that womens agency can only be gained by stripping oneself of all gender and humanity to become coldly mechanical, hardly a reasonable exemplar to follow. In the end, the play leaves us with no working model frustrating but representative of the fluid nature of female agency.


53 Thus, with Votes for Women! we will see agency develop along a different trajectory. The framework of public and private spheres remains, but this will exist more in the background and a new frame is added, that will emphasize concepts of individual and group agency. Many of the markers for agency in Mrs. Warren and Vivie are carried over to Vida Levering and Jean Dunbarton: voice, economic independence, self determination, control of sexuality. The intrusion on the masculine through the public sphere also remains as a method toward agency, but in Votes for Women! this will take the form of charity work and the campaign for suffrage rather than a profession. This process also reflects the shift in emphasis to purely individual agency (as with Mrs. Warren and Vivie) to a dual focus on the individual agencies of Miss Levering and Jean and the extension of a broader feminine agency in the from of suffrage. Just as Mrs. Warren and Vivie deviated from Behns characters, Miss Levering and Jean arrive at distinctly different versions of agency than Shaws characters.


54 Chapter 3: Agency through Suffrage in Elizabeth Robinss Votes for Women Elizabeth Robinss Votes for W omen! was initially performed in 1906 at the Royal Court Theatre18 18 The Royal Court Theatre was an independent company and, interestingly, also helped George Bernard Shaw attain recognition as a major dramatist (Chothia 285 n. Cast Page). (Chothia 136), timing which positions the play within movement for womens suffrage in Great Britain, and it has only recently begun to enjoy greater attention in scholarship. Elizabeth Robi ns was a well known and strong advocate of womens voting rights, a theme that acts as the focus of the plot of Votes for Women. The play centers on two heroines: Miss Vida Levering, an experienced and increasingly active campaigner for womens rights, and Jean Dunbarton, a young, nave and newly engaged upper middle class lady. Though not as literal as the mother daughter relationship of Mrs. Warren and Vivie, Votes for Women illustrates a similar generational development of agency. Miss Levering begins the play already exercising individual agency operating in the public sphere and is therefore actively seeking a broader female agency in the form of suffrage. Jean, on the other hand, has led the sheltered life of a proper young lady, and the play follows Jeans journey of awakening to the idea of women having and exercising their own will. Miss Levering acts as a catalyst for this journey, and for her Jean represent s the next generation of female activists.


55 Using these two characters, Votes for Women! does important work with developing female agency by extending the quest beyond individual women and seeking a broader agency for all women. This differs most drastically the agency Behns characters arrive at, moving from the cautiously acceptable breec hes part that gains a small amount of temporary agency to a play that begins with an independent woman and seeks to rewrite laws regarding women and extend at least one version of agency (suffrage) to all women permanently. This is even a leap from Mrs. W arren and Vivie, who only focus on individual rather than this plays eventual aim of group agency. Elizabeth Robins herself provides an excellent example of womens struggle for public agency, both personally and in the larger sense by seeking the vote. Like Shaws Mrs. Warren and Vivie, Robins pursues a profession. Robins was, from a young age, determined to become an actress, shocking her father since going on the stage professionally was quite . anathema to a family which saw itself as part of the gentry (John 19). However, Robins resisted her fathers attempts to persuade her away from the stage and eventually moved to Boston to pursue her chosen career (30).19 19 For mo re on this early period of Robinss life, see John 1923. It was here that she met actor George Parks, her future husband; however, neither she nor her family approved of George Parks, and she only married him after his stubborn refusal to give her up and threats of suicide (3135). It was during her marriage that Robins encountered some of the strongest opposition to her profession. As Kerry P owell explains, Parks could not tolerate Robinss acting, which was still a career


56 associated with prostitution (John 19), and disliked that his wife strayed from the domestic sphere that marriage should have confined her in once more (Powell 19). When R obins refused to quit the stage, Parks hurled himself into the Charles river, weighed down by a suit of armor from the Boston Museum acting company (Powell 19). Powell notes this as an extreme result of the expectations actresses faced. For a middle cl ass Victorian woman, like Robins, her profession was dividing her irremediably from domestic femininity and thus from Victorian expectations and ideals (19). Actresses, once married or betrothed . [were] expected to subjugate themselves to a man and give up their professional lives (18). According to Powell, a fear and admiration was rooted in a nervous perception that the exceptional actress could and sometimes did work free of the constraints of her gender, trespassing on the territory of men (14), a fact which Robinss refusal give up acting made intolerable for Parks. Following her husbands death, Robins moved to London to continue her acting (John 46). It was here that she became more heavily involved in the campaign for suffrage, and in 1907, Robins joined the Womens social and Political Union.20Of all the characters in the play, Vida Levering is the most determined to expand womens rights. Many of the women in the play are dedicated to Over the years, Robins became a staunch supporter for womens rights, penning twenty nine works defending suffrage from 1906 to 1921 (246247). Her first major work on the subject was the play, Votes for Women! 20 The same womens Union referred to in the text of Votes for Women! (Chothia 295 n. 576)


57 advancing womens situation: Lady John and Mrs. Heriot focus on philanthropic efforts; Mrs. Freddy petitions for suffrage. Yet, these women are restricted to ladylike actions by the traditional views of their husbands. Lady John, whose husband clearly views women voting as ridiculous, sticks to the charity work considered appropriate in upper class women. Mrs. Freddy is very careful to maintain a respectable appearance, distancing herself from the disorderly women and Suffragette methods (Robins 1.1.783804). Despite her support for suffrage, stage direction indicates that Mrs. Freddy car efully avoids displeasing her husband when she Catches her husbands eye, and instantly checks her flow of words (Robins 1.1.812).21However, Miss Levering faces no such restrictions, which enables her to better confront and def use male protests. She uses her voice freely and publicly, which contributes to her individual agency (a version unique to herself as opposed to suffrage, which would apply to many), and it is this characteristic that enables her to counteract masculine detractors of the womens movement. This is evident from Miss Leverings first introduction in the play as she deals with the preposterous Mr. Greatorex, who is laughably frightened of women who seek Throughout much of the play, women repeatedly face the derision of men for seeking voting rights, a behavior which is seen as counter to traditional norms for Victorian women. Marriage restricts these women to operating in the private sphere according to their husbands beliefs. 21 This is an interesting moment in a play that advocates womens public voice through suffrage and serves to highlight Robinss aim by contrast. With the vote, women would have a public voice separate from their husbands and would not be forced to check their own opinions and beliefs in deference to those of their husbands.


58 power and operate outside of the traditionally appropriate domestic sphere.22able to tolerate the actress, with her unique powers of speech and action, by confining her within rhetorical structures of madness, disease, prostitution, deformation, and inhumanity. Seen as sick, depraved, and exotic, these independent women could not easily present a serious threat to the social order which in normal circumstances would have rendered them, as women, idle and silent. (46) Robinss portrayal of Greatorex satirizes men who are threatened by independent women because of their perceived intrusion into the sphere of men. Robins faced similar fear as a result of her profession; as Powell notes the Victorian s were only I would argue that men are threatened by more than actresses like Robins, and are also fearful of independent women generally. Greatorex fears the Suffragettes, and so he shoves them into the category of disorderly women (1.1.791), which allows him mitigate their potential threat. Furthermore, in order to prevent Miss Leverings independence, whom he desir es, he attempts to keep her well within the sphere of domestic femininity and enters the first act protesting to Miss Levering against her discussing sanitation: I protest! Good 22 Greatorex often fearfully avoids being too close to such women. For example, upon finding himself too close to Mrs. Freddy, he exclaims Lord! The perils that beset the feet of man and comically pulls away (Robins 1.1.851852). See also stage directions 1.1.774: Enter Greatorex, sidling i n with an air of giving Mrs. Freddy a wide berth. His avoidance of strong women as if they were contagious or might bite is comically ridiculous, thereby making his extreme insistence on women remaining in the private sphere and maintaining traditional female behavior seem ridiculous.


59 Lord! what are the women of this country coming to? I protest against Miss L evering being carried off to discuss anything so revolting. Bless my soul! what can a woman like you know about it? (1.1.277281). Greatorex cannot believe that a respectable middle class woman (like Miss Levering) could possibly have knowledge of such a public (and thus outside her sphere) subject. Miss Levering largely ignores him, but Greatorex persists in his patronizing: And to be haled out to talk about Public Sanitation forsooth! . Why, God bless my soul, do you realize thats drains ? (1.1. 288290). The obviousness of his question reveals how little he estimates female intelligence; by his reckoning no respectable Victorian woman could possibly be interested in the inappropriately dirty subject of drains if she truly understood what it entailed. Miss Levering sarcastically replies, Im dreadfully afraid it is! the mockery of her words drawing attention to his foolishness (1.1.291) as well as refusing to leave an opening for further protest. In Act 2, Miss Leverings use of voice moves fr om a weekend party to an even more public venue: a protest at Trafalgar Square. She had never before addressed a crowd publically before (2.1.392394), but has come to realize the need for an increasingly public display for suffrage. Before leaving Lady Johns manor, Miss Levering discusses the uproar being caused by the Suffragettes. She argues that since politely petitioning Parliament (1.1.930) has failed more publically noticeable action is required: It does rather look to the outsider as if the w ellbehaved women had worked for forty years and made less impression on the world than those fiery young women made in five minutes (1.1.975977).


60 The women confined to appropriate behavior and the domestic sphere (like Mrs. Freddy) have been unable to attain suffrage, and Miss Levering believes that public voice will meet with better success. She puts this into practice by facing a crowd to advocate giving women the vote, and she argues well, addressing her audiences protests with reasoned responses ( 2.1.465490) and pointing out that women are neglected by a government that refuses aid to suffering women and denies them fair trial by peers (2.1.490567). This scene represents a moment of growth in Miss Leverings personal agency because she begins to exercise voice publically in an effort to achieve agency on a broader scale for all women. Miss Levering maintains this agency of voice by remaining unmarried, a state to which the play continually draws attention. In the first act, Lord John comments Mis s Levering is a nice creature; all she needs is to get some nice fella to marry her (1.1.263264). He repeatedly returns to this sentiment: a nice creature! All she needs (1.1.276 277, 421). The assumption being made here is that because Miss Levering is an attractive woman she must require a husband, or according to Mrs. Freddy, a man to act as her balance wheel (1.1.266). Furthermore, by repeatedly referring to Miss Levering as a nice creature, Lord John creates the idea that women are somehow subhuman and that their husbands are their keepers. However, as Jean Chothia notes, Lord Johns insistence becomes ridiculous by virtue of its increasingly inappropriate repetition (289 n. 421). Each of Lord Johns utterances follows a moment that reveals Miss Levering as capable and independent, such as her going to town for business (Robins 1.1.266275) or her ability to raise money for charity (1.1.410-


61 420). Miss Leverings public independence prompts Lord John to attempt to herd her back into the domestic sphere under the watchful eye of a husband, but the context preceding his statements makes it very clear that she needs nothing of the sort, making his exclamations ridiculous. Being married would not aid Miss Levering and would instead restrict her independence and her ability to help her cause, placing her in a position similar to that of Lady John or Mrs. Freddy. Thus, it is imperative the Miss Levering remain unattached and the very opposite of the controlled wife Lord John would like to see her as. As the play progresses it becomes increasingly clear that Miss Levering deliberately intends to avoid marriage, practicing a control over her sexuality that leads to agency (much like Shaws Mrs. Warren or Vivie). Miss Levering had a previous relati onship with Geoffrey Stonor, Jeans fianc, and is using Jeans knowledge of this past affair to manipulate Stonor into supporting suffrage. When Lady John confronts Miss Levering about this, Miss Leverings thoughts regarding marriage become clear: LADY JOHN I see. Its just that you wish to marry somebody MISS LEVERING Oh, Lady John, there are no men listening. LJ. ( surprised) No, I didnt suppose there were. ML. Then why keep up that old pretence? LJ. What pre ML. That to marry at all costs is every womans dearest ambition till the grave closes over her. You and I know it isnt true. (3.1.340 346)


62 Miss Leverings frank words dismiss the value of marriage for women and imply that it is not her ambition. Her words also imply that womens need for marriage is a fiction to be kept up in public but recognized as false in private, at least by the likes of respectably married women like Lady John. Again this emphasizes the restrictions of voice faced by married women and Miss Levering s place outside of them. However, Lady John, who is still firmly entrenched in the domestic sphere, proves unable to grasp the idea when Mr. Trent, the chairman of the womens Union arrives. She sees that he is in love with Miss Levering and rebukes her for being cruel to him. Yet this should not surprise Lady John given Miss Leverings previous declaration: who is there who will resist the temptation to say, Poor Vida Levering! What a pity she hasnt got a husband and a baby to keep her quiet? . But I tell you the only difference between me and thousands of women with husbands and babies is that Im free to say what I think. They arent. (3.1.419427). As she imagines what others might say, Miss Leverings sarcastic portrayal of what marriage is t o a woman reveals her contempt for the institution and her intention to maintain her independence from it. Moreover, the latter half of her declaration demonstrates that Miss Levering is well aware of the freedom of voice and agency her conscious refusal of marriage grants her. But not only does Miss Levering control her sexuality by avoiding marriage, she also wields her sexuality as a weapon, using it to gain the potential of further agency, not simply for herself, but women in general. As a young


63 woman, Miss Levering had an affair with Stonor that resulted in a child.23You cant bring him back. . But theres something you can do . Bring him to the point where he recognizes that hes in our debt. . In debt to women. He cant repay the one he robbed . No, he cant repay the dead. But there are the living. There are the thousands with hope still in their hearts and youth in their blood. Let him help them. Le t him be a Friend to Women. (3.1.295307) Jean discovers this after watching Stonors reaction to Miss Levering speech at the end of Act 2 and attempts to force Stonor to make the amends she believes necessary. While this is not solicited by Miss Levering, she takes advantage of the situation, using Jean to bring Stonors political force to the aid of womens suffrage: Just as Miss Levering is not content to stop with her own personal agency, she is also unsatisfied by Stonors private and individual regret. Instead, like the play itself, she calls for greater public action and r eparation to all the women previously victimized by womens place in society through Stonors support of suffrage. Miss Levering recognizes that in order to pass womens suffrage through Parliament women need an ally within the government and seeks to make Stonor that ally. She begins with blackmail, threatening to keep Jean away 23 The text is somewhat vague on the actual fate of the child. Though certainly dead, it is unclear whether this was the actually the result of abortion as the text implies on 1.1.635670. This uncertainty is a sharp contras t to Shaws Mrs. Warren who has a living child out of wedlock, which contributes to her exercise of her independence and control of her sexuality. Miss Leverings child, however, only brings her fall from grace, rendering her one of the women whose helpl essness she now seeks to alleviate (1.1.446). And yet, in a way quite different than Mrs. Warrens, Miss Leverings child also helps her on her quest for agency by adding to her persuasion of Mr. Stonor.


64 from him and recruit her to the cause of women unless he supports the cause himself (3.1.619725). When she sees that coercion will only make him balk, Miss Levering softens her approach, reassuring him that she has no intention of parting Stonor from Jean (3.1.725743). He offers her help, and she convinces him that her true desire is to prevent women from suffering as she did (3.1.744786). The play closes as Miss Levering departs successful; Stonor gives her the telegraph he had earlier penned in support of suffrage, and she goes out silently with the political dynamite in her hand (3.1.800). She has used her sexual history to achieve the support necessary to advance agenc y for all women. Looking back, this is quite the reverse of what previous characters have believed to be the effects of illegitimate children. Hellena saw the fate of a mother of such a child as having a cradle full of noise and mischief, with a pack of repentance at [her] back with no chance at marriage ( Rover 242). Mrs. Warren, who, though she uses the identity of Vivies father as a tool, also fears the revelation of her daughters illegitimacy (hence her insistence on being a Mrs.) But, Miss Levering, though regretful of her past, does not desire marriage or repent having her child (as Hellena might expect) nor does she fear others having knowledge of her past fall (as Mrs. Warren does), instead she uses her fate as a tool for good. Thus, Miss Leve ring gains the means of potentially extending agency to more women and achieves a new concept of feminine agency for a group not previously seen in the other plays. An inextricable part of Miss Levering and her agency is her relation to the New Woman figur e, also making her comparable to Shaws Vivie. However, I


65 would argue that Miss Levering is less a New Woman and more a reaction to the figure. Levering is the emancipated woman that develops out of the New Woman characters of the 1890s, like Vivie (C hothia 288 n .277). Unlike Vivie, whose boyish manners and rejection of sexuality represent the mannish, asexual biological type often associated with the New Woman (Ledger 16), Miss Levering is firmly in touch with femininity. Stage directions emphasize this aspect of Miss Levering, describing her as an attractive, essentially feminine, and rather smart woman of thirty two (Robins 1.1.277). In fact, Miss Levering mocks the concept that women who seek independence are unsexed creatures as sh e pokes fun at Mr. Greatorex for fearing such women (1.1.32930). Later, she angrily confronts the Mad. Unsexed version of the New Woman as the stereotype for the woman who served no mans bed or board (3.1.661663). And, though an opponent to m arriage, Miss Levering cannot be thrown to the opposite side of the New Woman spectrum and classed as a sexual decadent (Ledger 12). Victorian critiques of the New Woman feared her as a proponent of free love (Ledger 1215), yet Miss Levering resists such invitations from Mr. Greatorex: MISS LEVERING You see, you call it rot. We couldnt have got ,000 out of you.24GREATOREX If I gave you that much for your little projects what would you give me? 24 This conversation stems from the groups early discussion of the fact that Miss Levering had gotten Mr. Soper to donate money to charity.


66 ML. Soper didnt ask that. (Robins 1.1.427432) Miss Levering rebuffs Greatorex and makes it clear that the money she obtained for charity was gotten honestly and that she will not engage in sexually licentious behavior. While Miss Levering avoids some fears about the New Woman, she evokes others through her hatred of men. As Ledger shows, the new woman was often perceived as a threat to marriage, to reproduction, to economics, to politics. Hating men can only position Miss Levering as a similarly dangerous threat, especially given her oppositi on to marriage. Miss Levering implies her hatred at the end of her speech in Trafalgar square, warning For I know as well as any man could tell me, it would be a bad day for England if all women felt about all men as I do (2.1.584585). Like the New Wom ans opposition to marriage, this hatred would be feared for its potential to affect maternity, a valued aspect of Victorian society (Ledger 2426). However, the play is saved from condemnation by the fact that Miss Levering was a mother and valued the ex perience. Her love for her child and grief at its loss inspires her to fight for her cause (Robins 3.1.750785) and reveals her own maternal instinct when she claims it was the weakest the little, little arms that subdues the fiercest of us (3.1.7897 90). This again contrasts with the characterization of motherhood found in Mrs. Warren, who desires to control her child and denies Vivie a will outside of her mother (Shaw 58) whereas Miss Levering learns from and is subdued by her child. This is especially useful, since in a society that values marriage and maternity as the most important roles for women, Miss Leverings hatred of men would inspire fear were it not the fact that she exhibits such strong


67 maternal feeling. Ultimately, Miss Levering is abl e to take the beneficial characteristics of the New Woman as an independent agent without the negative consequences Vivie might face, making her a slightly better (though not unflawed) example of a type of female agency. Miss Levering does stand as an ex ample for future generations, acting as a catalyst for Jeans awakening. Jean begins the play as an innocent girl looking forward to starting her life as a wife. However, hints of her journey begin before she even meets Miss Levering. Her uncle assures her, we expect now that youll begin to think like Geoffrey Stonor, and to feel like Geoffrey Stonor, and to talk like Geoffrey Stonor (1.1.223 225, emphasis mine), to which she responds, Well, if I do think with my husband and feel with him (1.1.226). Jean unthinkingly changes her uncles language from like, which assumes submission to her husbands thoughts, to the more equalizing with.25 Once she meets Miss Levering, Jean quickly progresses from naively laughing at the idea of being respected (1.1.394404). Miss Leverings conversation makes Jean aware of what Miss Levering deems the helplessness of women, a phrase which freezes Jean once uttered (1.1.446). The process of Jeans becoming more aware is continued as she hears Miss Levering tell of her past, and Miss Levering concludes her tale with the assertion, My body wasnt born weak, and my spirit wasnt broken by the habit of slavery (1.1.586587).26 25 Chothia notes this as dramatic irony, since Jean has yet to awaken to the idea that she has a mind and opinions of her own (288 n. 226 7) The effects of this 26 Robinss use of language here that describes the state of women as one of slavery is reminiscent of Mills in The Subjection of Women. Robins would have been very familiar with


68 conversation are seen shortly after when Jean begins her first step towards awareness and acknowledges her innocence to Miss Levering: I want to begin to understand something of Im horribly ignorant (1.1.602603). From this moment, Jean begins to question womens position in society. Soon after she tells her aunt, Mrs Heriot, [Miss Levering] seems to go everywhere. And why shouldnt she? (1.1.629), already questioning the restriction of womens mobility. Soon Jean begins to seek out additional knowledge and, having learned about the Suffragettes, decides to visit their rally at Trafalgar Square (1.1.10861087). Initially Jeans interest is in spectacle, but after hearing Miss Levering speak, Jean begins to identify with the cause. Miss Levering enjoins the women listening to contribute money to the cause or labor if they cannot afford to give money (2.1.561567). Jean rejoices, much to Lady Johns shock: JEAN ( low to Lady John) Oh, Im glad Ive got power! LADY JOHN ( bewildered) Power! you? J. Yes, all that money (2.1.572574) Jean begins to realize t hat her economic independence27 STONOR Youre going the wrong way. allows her the power to support causes she herself chooses. This in turn causes Jean to find agency in the ability to exercise her own will and be self determining: JEAN This is the w ay I must go. S. You can get out quicker on this side. Mills work, as her later reference to him reveals (2.1.110), given its importance as a feminist t ext following his attempt to extend franchise (Chothia 293 n. 110). 27 Jeans economic standing is the result of a sizable inheritance. See 1.1.177 180.


69 J. I dont want to get out. S. What! Where are you going? J. To ask that woman to let me have the honour of working with her. (2.1.588593) Jean insists on her own will rather than conforming to the desires of others, and in doing so she takes her first step toward becoming a free agent. Interestingly, Jean does not conclude the play as a fully developed character with a complete sense of agency (as, perhaps, Vivie did). Instead we are left w ith a great sense of potential where Jean is concerned. Miss Levering explains this to Stonor, insisting that Jean it is not simply she who has hold of Jean Dunbarton and that the New Spirit thats abroad has Jean as well (3.1.638, 640). In other wor ds, the womens cause has entered Jean in a way Miss Levering finds irrevocable. Miss Levering finds in Jean a hope for the future: [Jean] sees for herself weve come to a place where we find theres a value in women apart from the value men see in them. You teach us not to look to you for some of the things we need most. If women must be freed by women, we have need of such as ( her eyes go to Jeans door) who knows? She may be the new Joan of Arc. (3.1.665 669) Miss Levering believes that Jean will be able to pick up the cause of womens rights, leaving us with the sense that Jean may continue developing, even in


70 marriage growing an agency beyond what has heretofore been available to women and truly achieve a voice for women in government. Like other instances of womens agency, Votes for Women! encounters complications: despite Miss Leverings repeated insistence that women must help women, the fact remains that in order to gain widespread agency via suffrage, women need the support of men. The mal e Parliament must pass the Bill for womens suffrage. Miss Levering rejects men as potential leaders in the womens movement; for example, she dismisses Trent as chairman of the womens Union, arguing that the first battles of this new campaign must be f ought by women alone (3.1.456 457). Stonor eventually confronts Levering with the fact she is all too aware of: Cant you see that this crazed campaign . even if its successful, it can only be so through the help of men? (3.1.675676). Essentiall y women can only gain the broader agency of the vote if men allow them to have, which would seem to belie the idea of female agency entirely. However, I would argue that this is not a negative complication like, say, Mrs. Warrens self conflictedness. Wh ile it would seem that men have the agency here, the term agent can also describe a person who acts for another (agent), thus placing agency in the hands of those directing the actions of the agent. In this case, Mr. Stonor has been positioned as the agent, and agency remains with women. Moreover, the women seeking suffrage are using every ounce of agency so far available to them, and once obtained their voting rights would be out of the hands of men. Thus, the conflict here is more of a temporary obstacle to overcome rather than an ongoing complication.


71 Votes for Women! presents an interesting version of female agency not found in the plays so far. Miss Levering and Jean possess and develop individual agency much like Shaws Mrs. Warren and Vivie or on a lesser scale Behns Hellena and Widow Ranter. However, the heroines primary goal is an agency that extends to beyond the individual experience to all women. Suffrage would allow all women the ability to influence government and through that pow er the agency to govern themselves. We also find the development of individual female agency, allowing for more acceptable models in the form of Miss Levering and Jean. Miss Levering does not face the complications of Mrs. Warrens fear of the loss of st atus, allowing her to advocate for her beliefs more publically, and she appears to be a much better, more human alternative to Vivies inhuman version of public agency. Also, unlike Mrs. Warren, who only fosters rebellion, or Vivie, whose inhumanity repul ses, Miss Levering is able to successfully mentor the next generation. This allows for healthy development of agency and the potential of an even better model in Jean.


72 Conclusion Each four plays discussed in this thesis feature heroines on a path toward agency. By examining the plays in sequence we can find a clearer picture of what female agency entails, revealing that this is not an easily definable, finite concept. Instead, agency is a fluid, growing theory that develops over the course o f each play, expanding and changing the conceptualization of agency and the methods women use to obtain it. This process begins most simply in the works of Behns The Rover and The Widow Ranter Both Hellena and Ranter desire to marry on their own terms and set out to choose and negotiate their own marriages. However, feminine norms of the period prevent the freedom of voice and mobility necessary to achieve this goal. The women are not free to operate in the public sphere as this would be inappropriate and, given Florindas near rape, hazardous. It is necessary, nonetheless, for Hellena and Ranter to move in this sphere in order to achieve their goals. Hellena must be able to navigate the streets of Venice and Willmores presence safely and freely, whi le Ranter faces similar obstacles on a battlefield. To meet this need, both women resort to the breeches part, disguising themselves as men. As men, they have the freedom to speak their minds and take action that is denied to them as women, allowing them to eventually arrange their own marriages. In doing so, Hellena and Ranter gain


73 the agency that comes with self determination, but this ability is fleeting since, once married, they will lose their selves to become the subjects of their husbands. From t his rather small step toward female agency, we move to the end of the nineteenth century. Like the Restoration and its fluctuating sense of femininity, the late Victorian period is in a state of transition, with the Woman Question growing increasingly important and complex. In Shaws Mrs. Warrens Profession, we find his heroines developing a more extensive sense of female agency. It begins with Mrs. Warren, whose profession allows her to develop economic independence, which in turn gives her the power t o move freely in society and exercise her own will. Her ultimate position of agency is determined by her possessing voice, economic independence, free will, self respect, and control of her own sexuality. However, her situation is complicated by her need to maintain respectability, without which she would lose her standing in society and her mobility. In order to remain respectable, Mrs. Warren must strike a delicate balance between the public and private spheres. It is from this complication that we see agency develop still further with Vivie. She possesses all the same elements of agency that her mother does. She uses her voice to insist on her ability to exercise her own will, a practice that she supports through the economic independence afforded by her profession as a clerk. She insists on upholding her self respect by cutting herself off from her mother and her mothers money, and she achieves sexual control by withdrawing from all possibility of marriage or romantic entanglement. However, unlik e her mother,


74 Vivies agency exists entirely in the public sphere, avoiding the complication Mrs. Warren faces. However, Vivie is also flawed as a potential model for female agency: as the play concludes, Vivie appears as an almost inhuman automaton, enti rely sexless hardly a model for feminine agency. Votes for Women! develops agency still further by seeking to apply it to all women. We see individual agency like that of Mrs. Warren or Vivie again in Vida Levering, who employs her voice publically and exercises free will and control of her sexuality. She puts this to use to help the cause of womens suffrage, which would grant agency to women in a more widespread manner. Also, unlike the heroines from the previous plays, Miss Levering provides a better model for an independent woman, since she neither loses her agency once obtained (like Hellena and Ranter) nor possesses flaws which contradict her agency (like Mrs. Warren and Vivie). Moreover the play shows Miss Levering as an active model for the next generation of female agents. She inspires Jean Dunbarton to open her eyes to the idea of womens suffrage and female independence, and in Jean we find the potential for another generation that will develop and improve womens agency still further. W ith each play, the definition of agency expands, moving from the small moments of independence found in Hellena and Ranter, to the individual agency of Mrs. Warren and Vivie, to the application of agency to all women. The methods used to obtain agency als o evolve, increasingly encroaching on territory typically belonging to men. This process starts small, with Hellena and Ranters temporary entrance into the masculine by dressing as men. It progresses, with


75 Mrs. Warren, whose pursuit of a profession devi ates from womens place in the domestic sphere; this evolves still further with Vivies choice of profession that places her entirely within the public sphere. Finally, the push for womens voting in Votes for Women! invades the male public sphere still m ore since voting and voice in government has hitherto been entirely the province of men. The fluidity of female agency demonstrated by these plays leaves room for further expansion of the definition which could be explored in later, modern or contemporary works, as well as the possibility that the concept is still developing today.


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About the Author Haley D. Anderson was born in Huntsville, Alabama, where she earned a B.A. Degree in English and Spanish from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. She then pursued a M.A. Degree from University of S outh Florida, where she received a first year Graduate Fellowship and a teaching assistantship.


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