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    The Death Of Soul


    In the present era, it has been witnessed that the character of the women has been described as angel or as demon. Further, it has been realized that in most of the novels the suffering is caused by the males to the women but still the lady are projected as the culprit.

    There are a few similarities between the female characters in George Eliot’s, Middlemarch, Dorothea Brooks, and Henry James’s, Portrait of a Lady, Isabel Archer. Both Dorothea and Isabel are portrayed by the authors as strong-minded, independent and interested in what life brings to them, taking on challenges and not hesitating in experiencing life. Having a passion to learn more and develop, these two women do not conform to the usual stereotype of women living in the eighteenth century.

    For one of the characters, the main goal is to be part of something greater than what life has to offer; for the other, the aim is to get married and live with a person who is part of a different society. Despite living in two different worlds, they make the same mistake falling back and relying on a husband that only wants them to behave as all other conventional women do. Their husband’s betrayal is of great importance, as it manifests a clear understanding of what happens to the two characters: betrayal they are exposed to by the people they least expect. The aim of the report is to understand the character of the women in both novels and the society’s point of view towards them. Besides this, through the characters of the novel the report will predict that women are give choices but they do not have the right to take it. On the other hand, it will be depicted that in the end the suffering was caused to the women because of the faults made by their male characters.

    According to both the novels both women want something from their life but the life gave both the women challenges in face of men. Both their husband do not loved them because of some or the other reasons. Further, both the lady got the choice to choose their mates but because of their wrong choice they suffered a lot. This report will help to portray that Dorothea Brooks and Isabel were ambitious but because of the society norms and the responsibility they were not able to fulfill their goals in their lives. On the other hand, the main aim of the report is that the men did not respect the goals and philosophies of the women. They always make them feel that they are superior to the lady. In case of Dorothea Brooks, Casaubon did not involve in her work because he knew that he was much more talented than her.

    On the other hand, in case of the Isabel, his husband behavior was not good towards her. But despite of this reason, the Isabel builds a good bond between her daughter and saves her from the bad intention of her husband to marry its ex lover. This character shows the selfless love for her husband’s daughter. Even her real father did not lover her as much as her step mother. Further, in the end it is unclear that the Isabel will sacrifice his life for the daughter or not. This report will aim to show the sacrificing nature of the women towards their family etc.

    Choices of the women and the social perspectives of society towards women 

    The focus of this essay is to show that how a choice Dorothea Brooks and Isabel becomes fatal to their spiritual life.  The aim of the report is to identify social views of the society towards Dorothea Brooks and Isabel.

    Similar characteristics of Dorothea Brooks and Isabel

    Upon reading Middlemarch and Portrait of a Lady, I could not help noticing the similarities both characters had, Dorothea Brooks marrying a man of importance to be part of the social hierarchy, even though coming from two very different worlds. Besides this, Isabel marries a man who has some history behind it. If she knows, she would not have married him.

    Social feminism can be defined as oppression of the women which can be further categorized as racism and economic injustice.   Barry argues that English and American literature differ in terms of feminist criticism in subjects such as, social and cultural orientation where the English literature focuses on ‘social feminism’.

    Barry relates with the study because injustice has been carried out in both the characters Dorothea Brooks and Isabel. As the former one was not respected equally by her husband in their work and the latter one, her husband was egoistic and did not provided love the affection.  But Barry feels that there are certain differences in novels written by women writers, such as, Eliot and James, containing different norms and approaches to society (129).

    This essay will present condition of both the women who had to deal with the situation arising in the Victorian Era and the unfairness strong and independent women were exposed to in society. In order to make a difference, Dorothea and Isabel needed to marry powerful men with high status to take part in a ‘male’ world where women did not belong.  This will constitute an important part of this essay since it is connected to the choices Dorothea and Isabel make. In this, the similarities between the choices of both women will be highlighted. The similarity which can be witnessed is that both the women chose rich man and the scenario which happened with them was same. After marriage both their husband did not gave love to them. This can give light on the reality of the society

    I will present the outcome of both the female characters Dorothea and Isabel, fate and their decisions. I will not mention and exemplify the suitors at all, as it is not necessary to put focus on them, but what this essay will focus on is why they chose husbands such as Casaubon and Osmond. This is the important to be focused because both their husband betrayed them. This is important because the life of both the women revolved around their husband.  Even though Dorothea and Isabel are two strong independent women, they live in a society where it is not possible for a woman to be prosperous on her own. Their belief is that marriage is a new possibility of a life of prosperity and independence which will enable them to accomplish things they could never do before. This leads both characters to a choice of decisive importance that changes their lives and eventually leads to the death of their soul.  

    I intend to give an insight of how the women were considered in society in the19th century. In the cases, the dreams and aspirations of women was not focused y their family members. In case of Isabel, he was sacrificing her life because of her husband daughter. It portrays that the women in the 19th century are made to develop sacrificing nature.  Both in Britain and in America by using critical thinkers such as Gilbert &Gubar, Brannon, Hochenauer, and BarryI will show how the two characters are managing to cope with a life in the New World versus the Old World.  The authors will depict the situation of the women by their story. They will portray the society point of view with their story.   I will also show how the characters’ personalities do not correspond to society’s norms and social view of that time, and how they make similar choices. The reason was both the women were ambitious, in case of Dorothea she was eager to help her husband in her work. Further, in case of Isabel she wanted to live free and due to this reason she did not marry Casper.

    This is opposite to the thinking of the 19th century when the women did not get freedom to live their own life.   In conclusion, I will focus on answering what Dorothea and Isabel will do, entering a marriage and having to come to a point in their lives where they have to make a crucial decision: either to stay and commit to their husbands and the marriage, or leave this life altogether and go back to fulfilling their own dreams and aspirations. As both the women married the man because they wanted to live their life on their own conditions. But this thing was mistaken because both their husband were opposite what they thought. In the present situation, if the leave them, they could live their life according to them.

    Society view-point of women

    Perception of society towards women in 19th century 

    The ideal woman in the Victorian society was not only to be a mother and a married woman, she was also obliged to be in the domestic environment where she usually was supposed to be decorative, supportive and a comfort to her husband while at the same time being a moral role model and the mainstay for her children (Pugh, 66). In society, according to the author of both the books women in the 19th century tend to live as different stereotypes which means that women serve as examples in appropriate behavior and roles as this was against their dreams as well as aspirations (Crawford and Unger, 49). In both Middlemarch (1871) and Portrait of a Lady (29th October, 1881), however, it is easy to see that both female characters represent the typical stereotype of a modern thinking woman. In this, the stereotype is basically the sacrificing lady if she had some needs and aspirations she would sacrifice for her family. This was the case with both the women.  They both fit the same category of, social roles, behaviors, and physical characteristics, which leads to a normative set of values regarding how women ought to be.  The reason is because these values as well as norms are made by the society and due to this reason; the women are idolized in this way.

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    As per the present situation, now they women are set free and their demands are respected by the society. But in case of the 19th century, it was not this case because it was the male dominating society and the thought process of the women were controlled by men. According to Brannon, “true” womanhood was something the women of those days were aware of. They were judged by others and by themselves for not being the typical woman of the 18th century. The women in the Victorian era were depending on their purity and piety because without that quality the women would be lost in a male dominated society and pursue a life without value or hope (161). Brannon further states that women were expected to be weak, dependant, and timid. Due to this reason, the women of the 19th century would then search for strong men to marry who would have unquestionable superiority and the women would not consider questioning their authority. Further, in case of Dorothea and Isabel, both of them married those man who can support them financially as well as mentally in their dreams. Because of this social injustice women were forced to make a choice in order to make a difference and have powerful positions. To achieve this they had to marry men of importance (161).

    Difference between society thinking and characteristics of women 

    In George Eliot’s Middlemarch, women are expected to have weak if not no opinions about society. This can be justified as in case of Dorothea her husband suspected her to be weak. He though he will not ne career oriented etc. further, in case of Isabel the same thing was thought by her husband. Even though they have many established opinions that can be of benefit, women struggled to act on those opinions. Instead, they were intended to take more interest in making a proper domestic life for themselves. The view of women in society is depicted in a similar way between Dorothea and Isabel, where women are subordinate to men at all levels of society.  This is witnessed in the book in case of Dorothea show was not allowed to work with her husband and further in case of Isabel her husband did not consider her equal to him (Pugh, 66).

    According to the thinking of the society they are far opposite to them as in case of Portrait of a Lady, Isabel clearly takes great part in society by the way she behaves and the clothes she wears. This shows that they have ability to impress others and even can fulfill their needs. But according to the norms and critical thinking of the society it is possible for them to do so. This specifies that having the ability to conquer the world they do not have the right to do so. (216). Gilbert and Gubar argue the fact that women always had a traditional part in the home, playing a role ‘behind the scenes’ meaning that they lived a life with men who were intellectually strong, leaving them no room for their intellect to be at display to the public or outside of the home. For the society, the way women live and what kind of wealth they have are of great importance for their future status and “the pride of being ladies had something to do with it. For Isabel, her newly inherited money meant climbing in society and, therefore she “made up her mind that to be rich was a virtue because it was to be able to do, and that to do could only be sweet, it was the graceful contrary of the stupid side of weakness – especially the feminine variety” (Portrait of Lady, 226).

    A step higher in the social pyramid leads to open doors and acceptance by others in her social surroundings (Pugh, 101).
    In case of the society view it has been noted that according to the characters of the novel it has been witnessed that despite being talented they are not given the right in the society. In this, the dominance of men has been showed and the behavior of the males towards the women. Further, as both the women demanded the equal respect in terms of works and other aspects. But it was not given to them. Like in case of Isabel she was not ready to give her freedom but according to the society perspective she does not have the right to determine it. The major view point in this case is that the women have to beg right from their husband. As this will be depicted from the choices of Dorothea and Isabel they married their husband so that they can support her. Without the support of husband in the 19th century the women cannot think to succeed in her life.   

    Injustice done by men towards women 

    In Middlemarch, a majority of the men are involved in politics. The women in the plot are surrounded by politics at dinner parties and social gatherings indirectly making them involved without the right to take part or even vote. Women were thought to be incapable of understanding anything else apart from their domestic duties at home: “As to the Whigs, a man who goes with the thinkers is not likely to be hooked on by any party. He may go with them up to a certain point you know. But that is what you ladies never understand” (44, Middlemarch).  

    Women live life according to society norms 

    Once more, women are supposed to occupy their time in something ladylike and something expected of a woman: “they want to be a great deal on horseback, and have the garden altered and new conservatories, to fill up my days” (300, Middlemarch). Again women are very aware of gender expectations imposed by the typical stereotypes and what is expected of them by men. After marriage, the women in Middlemarch live their life according to the norms and laws of how a woman in that social class ought to live. Dorothea clearly expresses her displeasure at her now quiet days: “I shall be quite grateful to you if you will tell me how I can help to make things a little better. Everything of that sort has slipped away from me since I have been married” (361). (355).

    Dorothea seldom left home without her husband and only did so when she was compelled to. The way society in Britain and the New World was built and how it functioned was, however, questioned by women such as Dorothea.  This is shown clearly in Middlemarch, where ‘at a young age’ Dorothea started troubling her elders with questions and her interest in how society was built and how it functioned. Dorothea questioned and was seeking for reasons as to why the eldest son was the one to inherit the family fortune: “those reasons, impressing her with a certain awe, might be weightier than she knew, but here was a question of ties which left them uninfringed… All the energy of Dorothea’s nature went on the side of responsibility – the fulfilment of claims founded on our own deeds, such as marriage and parentage” (307). According to Pugh, however, the imbalance of the sexes regarding wealth and political views in the Victorian Era created problems, especially in the upper-middle-classes. Women of great wealth could be forced to use the law of equality, meaning that they could have money which the husband could not touch (69).

    The Female Character

    This section is focused in the report because the real difference between the life of women and society name is witnessed. By analyzing the personnel characteristics of the women it can be said that both the women were ambitious but due to their destiny as well as choice they were not able to fulfill their aim. Besides this, in this the main culprit is the society norms as well as view. On the other hand, the female characters are evaluated because they are the real individual who has suffered in the society.

    Characteristics of Dorothea’s

     Dorothea’s theoretical mind strives for a lofty conception of the world. George Eliot has put her in a male-dominated society where she is almost compelled to be egoistic and change the norms of her life only to be part of something great (Gilbert &Gubar, 476). Only twenty years of age, Dorothea has been educated since she was twelve occupying her mind after she was left orphaned and was enamoured of intensity and greatness, and was rash in embracing whatever seemed to her to have those aspects. With a great willpower to learn and develop, Dorothea would embrace any adversity because of what she thought was expected of her, as a companion to Casaubon. What Dorothea puts herself through is somewhat similar to a martyr, by becoming Casaubon’s bride and choosing to give her soul to him (503). To other characters in Middlemarch, Dorothea comes across as an outspoken and sharp person, a reliable one. When she does have an opinion, Dorothea is not ashamed of speaking her mind and backing up her ardent ideas. Many describe her as an adorable clever young lady full of “feeling”: “She was not coldly clever and indirectly satirical, but adorably simple and full of feeling. She was an angel in beguiled” (173).

    To some of the characters, especially Lydgate, Dorothea is described as a divine lady who carries the morality of the Middlemarchers making her appear ‘angel like’: “Mrs Casaubon is too unlike other women for them to be compared with her” (359).Gilbert and Gubar argue that Dorothea’s moral conscience appears as a perfect standard of a perfect lady. She is clever in her ways and beautiful, somewhat like an angel because of her conduct (514). The main reason due to which the female character of Dorothea has been written because it states the difference between point of view of society as well as their nature. This states that the life which is lived by them are not according to their desire.

    According to the character of the Dorothea she was wealthy, confident and further she was passionate about her work. From her character it can be said that she is the strong women and wants to change the world. On the other hand, she helped Lydgate when he was in need. She is the one who can make the future by herself but still she married the man thinking that he would help him. In reality, she is not enjoying her life and her dominant husband who is superior to her. Her cleverness, distinctiveness and strong-mindedness as her major characteristics are being set aside just to ‘play’ a typical role of a typical wife in the 19th century deserving a husband like Casaubon.

    In similar to Dorothea young Isabel Archer is fully described by Henry James fairly early in the book as an independent poor girl growing up during the Civil War who wants other people to perceive her as a clever person with a great desire for knowledge and an appetite for life: “she had an immense curiosity about life and was constantly staring and wondering. She carried within herself a great fund of life, and her deepest enjoyment was to feel the continuity between the movements of her own soul and the agitations of the world”

    The similarity between the two women is that they are capable enough to conquer the world and they both do not want to hinder their freedom (34).  In case of Isabel she would have married the young man but still she chose the freedom on top.  

    This interest in learning and experiencing the world and new things makes Isabel curious about the “other” life, the life she does not currently live: “this young lady had been seated alone with a book. To say she was so occupied is to say that her solitude did not press upon her; for her love of knowledge had fertilizing quality and her imagination was strong” (20). For understanding the difference between the point of view of society as well as the women it is important to identify the character of the women so that then only it would be understood that the women were not living up to their aspirations. the main similarity between Dorothea and Isabel is that they perceive the world differently from the society norms and regulations.
    Characteristics of Isabel 

    Isabel wanted no one to know about her passion for reading books and that she had an interest and great knowledge of the outside world. She did not want people to know her as a bookish young girl, reading about wars and looking at historical paintings. (449). Because of Isabel’s understanding of life through books she was never going to consent to a role ‘behind the scenes’ but is exactly what she ends up doing by agreeing to marry Osmond. Isabel’s characteristics are what make her special and complex and somewhat naïve compared to other characters in Portrait of a Lady. Further, Brody argues the fact that Isabel’s characteristics such as her independence, and her naïvety, makes her determined to do nothing ordinary with her life (63). She is a young woman with many good qualities and many characters in the novel think of her as a perfect lady: “you’re very brilliant—you know that’s the way you’re always spoken of; you’re an heiress  (300). Her originality is the only way she can truly be in control of her own life according to her standards and ideals. Because of this, Isabel is able to break free from her old life and this gives her freedom. Her aunt depicts Isabel as a gifted, clever girl who has a strong will and a high temper. To other characters in Portrait of a Lady who know Isabel quite well, such as Henrietta, she comes across as a daydreamer, dreaming of something greater in life almost waiting for something to happen and not realizing where she is now:

     The same similarity can be shown in Dorothea as she also wants to do something. Both the lady did not portrayed as Dorothea them as weak helped Lydgate as this states that they do not need the help of any individual to conquer their dreams. “Your newly-acquired thousands will shut you up more and more to the society of a few selfish and heartless people who will be interested in keeping them up” (233). It is clearly shown that Isabel’s good nature does not mix well with her fortune. The only person who has realized what is necessary to do is Henrietta who tells Isabel that a change of character is necessary for keeping her appetite alive. Isabel’s ambition is to be well perceived and she strives for people to like her, which has to change: “That doesn’t suit you at all - you’re too fond of admiration, you like to be thought well of - You think we can escape disagreeable duties by taking romantic views—that’s your great illusion, my dear” (233 According to Hochenauer, Isabel is held back by her credulous mind and this makes her miss what life and society are all about. Her romantic view of things is what makes Isabel vulnerable. Hochenauer further states, that Isabel is facing her ambiguity as part of her characteristics that only makes her unconscious of the real life (20).

    Similarities between both of them 

    From the above characteristics of both Dorothea and Isabel, it states that they have the same characteristics as well as nature. Further, the situations which occurred in their life as also the same as both did not get good husband who can admire her dream. Even the men in their life also portrayed a male chauvinist nature which was same as the society point of view. This makes us feel that in the 19th century women have the power to conquer their dreams but still they were not supported by their society.


    In both the books, the focus is on the choice which is made by both the women. The reason behind the suffering of Dorothea and Isabel is their choice of husband. As both the lady had the chance to select that man which can help in conquer their dreams but due to wealth and intellectual thinking they chose wrong husband. From the choice it will help to identify the reasons behind their sufferings.

    The world in which both of them were living is same because there were same society regulations as well as the behavior of the people towards women were same. Similar situation were witnessed by both the ladies.

    Dorothea and Isabel make the same mistake, falling back and relying on a husband that only wants them to behave as all other women in society (Brannon, 162). The mistake was made by both the women as despite of being confident and talented they chose the husband by seeing their wealth. In case of Dorothea she did not even checked the background of her husband. Barry strongly states that women of the 19th century were never able to be equal to men, but were merely treated as individuals with lack of social power. This has been stated because both the lady always casted equal to men an d due to this reason only, they had made fault in choosing the life partner. He further states that the lack of representation of these women lead them into marriages which could be compared to ‘social castration’ meaning that, in order to achieve anything more in society, they needed to be men. By denying their femininity and strong character, ‘castration’ would eventually lead women to accept becoming a male possession rather than their equal (125).Both Dorothea and Isabel are supposed to make a decision about how they are to live their life. We are shown how these independent women are forced to make a choice that will change their lives.

    Brody argues that both female characters resemble each other in many ways. Both are independent, naïve young women who are very much determined not to do anything ordinary with their lives, especially in their choice of husbands. The reason is that  Brody continues by stating that “Dorothea thinks she is “marrying Pascal, while Isabel is looking forward to “a lovely and studious life” devoted to beauty (63). Both characters are very eager in their decisions of choosing their spouses. According to Dorothea and Isabel It almost seems as if they are being punished for wasting such good opportunities in choosing a suitable husband. In both the cases they have experienced the same thing.  In making this decision, women would determine their happiness and fulfilment in life, or the lack of these, which happens to Dorothea and Isabel (131).

    It is well accounted for in Middlemarch that Dorothea’s choice of a husband and marriage is only based on her love of the differences of things in life, the exceptionality of, her love of extremes, just as Barry argues: “Nothing could hinder it but her love of extremes, and her insistence on regulating life according to notions which might cause a wary man to hesitate before he made her an offer, or even might lead her at last to refuse all offers” (7). She clearly shows that her idea of a marriage is somewhat childlike and she believes in a different notion of marriage seen as companionship instead of a loving marriage: “The really delightful marriage must be that where your husband was a sort of father, and could teach you even Hebrew, if you wished it” (8).

    You can clearly see that Dorothea’s idea of a good marriage is in believing, admiring and honoring a man. By the nineteenth century many women, started questioning their social role and began widening their political, educational and social sphere braking away from the normality of how women should be in a marriage. Their interest gave them a special concern with the role of women in the household in a male dominated culture (Gilbert, Gubar, 444). That is what Dorothea found in Casaubon who is twenty-seven years older than her: “I should not wish to have a husband very near my own age,’ said Dorothea, with a grave decision. ‘I should wish to have a husband who was above me in judgment and in all knowledge’” (32).  This refers to that due to the desire of Dorothea wanting more led her to destroy her life. She wanted more talented men in her life so due to this reason, the men he got did not support her in her work.  This refers to as sometimes wanted more in the life can lead to wrong decision. Dorothea, this means that she gets to make the decision in marrying a wise man to guide her through life, a man who is ready to be her companion and teach her about ideals and norms in society to live by. Dorothea will basically have a male role model to admire and adore. Her knowledge about Casaubon’s family situation, his work, ‘his great soul’ and his character is what makes her decide to marry him. By entering this marriage, she shows her independence, making a choice on her own, showing her strong character. Her belief of not being like the other young ladies in Middlemarch helps her decision: “it was wicked to let a young girl blindly decide her fate in that way, without any effort to save her” (236).

    Casaubon gives an impression that he needs and wants a companion to solve his great work, “the key to all mythologies” which is what intrigues Dorothea in accepting his proposal. A clergyman and a scholar who may be a bishop is a better match than other suitors for Dorothe. According to the study and analysis, they would have helped the Dorothea in fulfilling her dreams. On the other hand, being part of something greater than she could ever imagine is exactly what she had waited for: “I should be all the happier, uncle, the more room there was for me to help him” (34). What Dorothea chooses is to give up her ideals, her aspiration, impatience and her eagerness to learn and develop, which is what it seems like. She ‘gives her soul’ to help her husband in his pursuit of ‘the key to all mythologies’ not understanding that it will dry up her soul: “I should have no happiness if I did not help him in his work. What could I do? There is no good to be done in Lowick. The only thing I desire is to help him more” (300). Gilbert and Gubar argue for the empowerment of women after marriage and letting go of their outspoken passion they had before getting married by educating themselves. In case of Dorothea and Isabel, they both had passion in their life but after marriage it was destroyed.  By educating the individuals specially the women, they would know their rights as they have the full right and choice what they want to presume in their lives.

    It seems that a sacrifice is made in choosing marriage by giving up the independence to make one’s own choices and decisions. Because of the difficulties women had in the Victorian Era, and their social status, the only reasonable way they could make a difference was to marry men of great social status. For Eliot’s character, Dorothea’s outcome was the opposite: she had a choice to be where greatness could happen, but ‘instead’ she deliberately sabotages her own destiny, giving up on her ideals and her aspiration. Her impatience and eagerness prevents her empowering herself through the knowledge of books (445).

    The choice Isabel makes is not realistic; she has no direct apprehension of how real life works and her way of seeing things from a romantic point of view is the main reason for her naïvety. In this way, Isabel becomes easily affected indirectly by others and their opinion. Wanting to experience the world and all of its surroundings becomes a possibility for her to escape from her ‘caged’ world; she is drawn only to see the best in people: “Haven’t you discovered that I think very well of Mr. Rosier? I do indeed; he seems to me simpaticissimo. He has made me believe in true love; I never did before!” (581). According to her cousin, Isabel would make a choice of marriage based on her good nature and believing the best in people due to her gullibility: “She is even capable of marrying Mr. Osmond for the beauty of his opinions or for his autograph of Michael Angelo” (297).

    This reflects that her decision in marrying Osmond is based on poor judgement, and the reasons we get from Isabel are not what ordinary young ladies would think of marriage: “What does one marry for? ‘What will you marry for, heaven only knows. People usually marry as they go into partnership - to set up a house. But in your partnership you’ll bring everything” (361). Isabel values everything about Osmond even romanticising about his name and finding it grand and powerful enough to marry into. What Isabel does is that she marries a man whom she thinks highly of without really knowing anything about him. This is exactly what Mr. Goodman warns Isabel about “you think he’s grand, you think he’s great, though no one else thinks so” (356). Isabel is not in the search of a man with a great wealth and praise, but a man who can challenge her intellect. According to Hochenauer, Isabel is the one who will make the final decision and selection of who she is going to marry. Her choice in Osmond is not a sexual one, but purely an interest in the person he is.

    She is only interested in his perception of her intellectual ideas and what she is capable of becoming. Hochenauer further states, that Isabel’s choice of the right suitor is solely based on her showing of her strong qualities as a person, not a sexual one of being pretty. She wants a suitor to respect her intellect, rather than her body. Therefore, she struggles with her choice of husband and by making a correct decision in order to get her independence within the marriage (22 Hochenauer).

    There are certain difference between the two of the ladies but still there story of the life is same. Few characteristics of them are same but still there are few of them which are opposite. In case of Isabel, romantic aspect is also considered at the time of taking the decision regarding marriage. Further, according to her nature, she also sees well in every feel and believes that everyone is good. This is not in case of the Dorothea because she is smart carry out the work intellectually. But the main similarity between the two is that both of wanted the man who are smarter than her. But still the main plot which revolves around is the same and the main villains are their soul mates who have the same thinking and the society views and norms.


    The betrayal that Dorothea and Isabel were exposed to by the people they least expected it from was somewhat similar for both female characters. They were the subject of a falsehood where Dorothea was lead to believe she was to take part of finding ‘the key to all mythologies’, which her husband devoted his life to, giving the impression to the Middlemarchers that it was going to revolutionise the future. Brody states that for Dorothea, this meant getting close to something important which would affect her social world make a difference. Dorothea would finally be able to contribute with her strong character and independence (65). Isabel, on the other hand, is fooled into a dark and cold marriage, just as she had escaped from her own uneventful life, which consisted of fantasies read in books rather than real life experiences.

    Casaubon let Dorothea think she was to be part of something out of the ordinary when she married him. Casaubon let Dorothea agree to a marriage under false expectations, thinking that a young girl would let him be in peace with his great work. Her belief in his work put her in a position where she stood by her husband, supporting him to develop his work and checking his material in order to help him. Casaubon let Dorothea see how he had put great effort in “finding the key to all mythologies”, which for him was the only way to lure her into marrying him. She was fooled in participating in and witnessing his quest without any result. Even though Casaubon was very much aware of his failure, he kept Dorothea in the dark. His worst fear was for Dorothea to see him as a failure, his own insecurity and realisation that his “great” work had no “key”. Casaubon’s solution to this was to push her away in order to cover up his failure, transferring his insecurity in another direction.

    Evidence from the sources 

    In Isabel’s case, she was lured into a world of romanticism and wealth far from what she was used to, as Osmond gave her a foretaste of the life she would have if she decided to let her feelings go and marry him. By showing her different lifestyle, Osmond gave her the opportunity to see how a person from the New World could succeed in society only if they had money and will. Osmond’s only agenda was to gain more money and it was easy. He let Isabel think she was special to him: “I won’t pretend that I’m sorry you’re rich; I’m delighted. I delight in everything that’s yours whether it be money or virtue” (380). This states that, he married the person for her money but in case of Isabel she thought she founded the love in him. Hinton states, that Osmond’s obsession with money and wealth is a form of masochism where he uses his intelligence in order to lure Isabel’s wealth into his own pockets. This states that it was betrayal for her. Hinton further argues that Isabel’s ignorance of her wealth is why she eventually becomes Osmond’s victim of deception (305). Osmond is very open and straightforward with Isabel making her unaware of his reasons for courting her. The closest people around Isabel warned her about Osmond and his intentions towards her.

    Hochenauer describes Osmond’s betrayal as an asexual attraction where he lets Isabel think she will be intellectually desirable to him. This is true because this was the only reason Isabel was attracted to him and according to her choice she wanted the man who would be more intellectual and intelligent than her.(22). By doing this, Osmond succeeds with his deception. (163). Gilbert and Gubar also state that women representing the Old- New World easily fell in to a life of self-sacrifice, alienating themselves from the unspoken needs in a normal marriage (449).Being strong-minded and trying to be independent, Isabel would not listen to anyone, which becomes her downfall and exactly what Osmond expected, thus making it easier for him to obtain control of her money. He occasionally tells her the truth of what the others thought of him and what his intentions truly were: “ Nevertheless, one morning, he made an abrupt allusion to it. ‘It’s the difference in our fortune they don’t like,’ he said. ‘They think I’m in love with your money,” (380).

    Polakoffargues that Dorothea and Isabel now have obtained knowledge and full insight in the male world in society because of their husbands’ social status in their communities. It is true because through their behavior they have witnessed that it is the male dominating society as in case Dorothea he was not supported for her work and further in case of Isabel she was not treated good. This states that through their behavior of husband they knew that society norms are different from women as they do not provide independence to women. Their interest in questions about society in the Old and New World makes them familiar with the male culture and structure in society (311). Furthermore, Pugh argues that men in the Victorian Era had to make their fortune one way or the other to make ends meet. Many men, second or third generation coming from business families were living a life of wealth and leisure. They had lost their entrepreneurial drive, instead concentrating on other occupations; some would even marry and inherit the wife’s property and income (14).

    Both Dorothea and Isabel marry older men, one an ecclesiastical, the other a gentleman of society but of very cold temperament. These men feel challenged by their women and for that reason they feel the need to criticize them: “I’ve an ideal of what my wife should do and not do. The nature of man is important because due to the same nature it can be said that their behavior towards the women were same. Further, from their age it can also be believed that they will be more dominating than younger ones.  She should not travel across Europe alone, in defiance of my deepest desire, to sit at the bedside of other men” (Portrait of a Lady 585). Brody states, that this betrayal is based on Dorothea’s and Isabel’s way of challenging their husbands intellect: in this case, both of them challenged as they both wanted the man smarter than her.

    This is the fact because according to the novel it has been illustrated that both of them wanted the desirable man.“Certainly the circumstances of their marriages are mean and constricted in the same way; neither girl has chosen a husband willing to share a lovely and studious life” (64). Casaubon and Osmond, turn bitter and unloving towards their wives because they married what they thought was a passive feminine admirer. Gilbert and Gubar also discuss how Dorothea succeeds in causing pain and intellectual frustration by supporting Casaubon in his quest to find the key to all mythologies and urging him to start writing the key (511). To Casaubon, Dorothea becomes “a spy watching everything with malign power of inference” (167 Middlemarch).


    A wrong choice changed her life 

    Dorothea now has realized due to her decision to marry Casaubon is that she has now entered a life of total stillness. Her maiden’s dream of how her marriage ought to be has proven her wrong and the opposite of what she had pictured. Her marriage is not at all what she envisioned: “now that she was married to him, [she] was gradually changing with the secret motion of a watch-hand from what it had been in her maiden dream” (162). Dorothea’s mistake in choosing Casaubon as her husband has turned the life she knew around, a passionate life full of ideas, vivid and with clear visions in what to achieve to a life of insecurity and remorse: “she was in the reaction of a rebellious anger stronger than any she felt since her marriage. Instead of tears there came words: ‘What have I done – what am I – that he should treat me so? He never knows what is in my mind – he never cares. What is the use of anything I do? He wishes he had never married me’” (352).

    Instead of Dorothea helping Casaubon with his work, somewhere along the way she loses her passion by living her life passively and in stillness next to him. Women were always likely to come second in society giving up their own aspirations to support their husbands’, which explains Dorothea’s situation, regardless of her strong character and attempts to make a difference. Further,  the lives of women making decisions such as, Dorothea and Isabel, eventually leads in choosing to become a wife of status, a trophy or a perfect wife, suitable for society (501).

    The lively ideas of helping Casaubon she once had are slowly put aside, realizing that her independence and passion was merging into the death of her soul. She is not to take part and the encouragement she once had for helping and contributing is gone and eventually leads to total boredom. Her visions and ambitions are totally constricted and fully dedicated to Casaubon, which is slowly killing her soul As if he knows that Dorothea only makes this decision based on the belief of becoming part of Casaubon’s greatness: “And now you will go and be shut up in that stone prison at Lowick: you will be buried alive” (183). By ignoring Casaubon’s last wishes Dorothea begins to lose her personality and the spirit that makes Dorothea the person she is. This is the start of her death of soul:

    In Portrait of a Lady the same sort of spiritual death seems to affect Isabel. The death of soul that Isabel is exposed to is far worse than that of Dorothea. By agreeing to marry Osmond, Isabel loses herself, her own personality; she loses her joy of experiencing life, and the most important thing of all, being free to see life. Underwood further argues that ‘due to Isabel’s upbringing,’ she has been imprisoned, reading her books, dreaming and longing for a life in the real world. Due to this reason only who wanted a romantic marriage and even perceived that her husband loved her.  This reminds her of her upbringing, and the fact that she is re-creating the same patterns in her marriage (51). Her mistakes are due to her misjudgements where her fatal choice leads to her spiritual death according to Ralph: “You were the last person I expected to see caught.

    ‘I don’t know why you call it caught. ‘Because you’re going to be put in to a cage” (369). Isabel we know who, before she was married, was full of life and was curious about it, has now changed into an unhappy woman after marrying Osmond: “you’re the most unhappy of women, and your husband’s the deadliest of fiends” (641). Underwood argues the fact that Isabel’s marriage to Osmond has a clear consequence for her behavior due to her misjudgment that puts her in a prison whilst married to him because of her inability to listen to people around her (51). Slowly this unhappiness puts to death the only thing that makes Isabel be herself: “Leave your husband before the worst comes; that’s what I want you to promise. ‘The worst? What do you call the worst? ‘Before your character gets spoiled” (546). In marrying Osmond, she takes a step forward into a fate that will gradually diminish her as a person. According to Madame Merle, this is what eventually takes Isabel to a spiritual death: “you’ve not only dried up my tears; you’ve dried up my soul” (569). Brody continues arguing that the consequence of Dorothea’s and Isabel’s marriages become trite and tensed in the same way. Neither of them chose a husband willing to live and share a loving and peaceful life; they turn bitter because of their wives’ not being passive in their companionship, instead Casaubon and Osmond find them observant, judgmental and having ideas (64).

    According to the character and the situation in which they were, the consequences are not good. Both the lady lost their originality in their lives, due to this their attitude and perception towards the society changed. In case of Dorothea he lost his passion for the work and was living a life on the terms of her husband. On the other hand, in case of Isabel she sacrificed her life for her husband daughter. Besides this, she lost her freedom which was very dear for her. This was the reason she I not marry the rich man.


    Dorothea accepts Casaubon’s offer in marriage, it is based on false expectations by Dorothea who is not at all aware of the awkwardness of the whole situation: “there was something funeral in the whole affair, and Mr Casaubon seemed to be the officiating clergyman, about whom it would be indecent to make remarks” (40). When realizing the seriousness of her mistake in agreeing to marry Casaubon, Dorothea is compelled to accept her decision and live with the outcome. Dorothea finally accepts her situation, having no say in a marriage she has put herself in: “… she sat listening, frightened, wretched – with a dumb inward cry for help to bear this nightmare of a life in which every energy was arrested by dread” (309). Dorothea has to accept that what she desires and needs is no longer important if it is not shared with Casaubon and if he does not find it interesting. Gilbert and Gubar claim that, in order for Dorothea to come to terms with her choice and finally accept her life, she needs to stop trying to shape herself into Casaubon’s image of how a wife of a clergyman should be, since Casaubon himself lacks passion and vividness suitable for a woman such as Dorothea. What is expected of a woman in Dorothea’s situation is to worship a man such as Casaubon, which many women did making them dependent upon their husbands’ approval (506).Dorothea is all alone in this marriage without any spiritual harmony between the couple.

    which makes Dorothea slowly die within, making her personality fade away: “books were of no use. Thinking was of no use, there was no refuge now from spiritual emptiness and discontent, and Dorothea had to bear her bad mood, as she would have borne a headache” (392). “I think it is not right - to make a promise when I am ignorant what it will bind me to. Whatever affection prompted I would do without promising” (394). Due to the short period of time her marriage lasted, Dorothea realised and accepted her situation. She understands that her death of soul was a result of taking part of something she had no belief in: ”at first she walked into every room, questioning the eighteen months of her married life, and carrying her thoughts as if they were a speech to be heard by her husband” (442).

    Isabel’s situation is fairly similar to what Dorothea is faced to deal with. Despite their differences in some of the characteristics like Isabel was romantic and kind hearted but on the other hand Dorothea was smart pious. These two women are compelled to confront their destiny and accept their choice. Hochenauer argues that Osmond’s true intention with Isabel was to marry her only because of her money. It can be confirmed with the behavior which he demonstrates in front of Isabel. He tricks her into believing her great mind and originality is of interest to him, but ‘truly’ he disdains all of her ideas and her passion (22). Isabel is compelled to accept her fatal choice of marriage when she finally realises that her husband hates her. He sees a person so fragile and easy to influence that he can do as he likes. He almost sees Isabel as an artist sees an unfinished product that he can change as he likes:

    She knew of no wrong he had done; he was not violent, he was not cruel: she simply believed he hated her. That was all she accused him of, and the miserable part of it was precisely that it was not a crime, for against a crime she might have found redress. He had discovered that she was so different, that she was not what he had believed she would prove to be. He had thought at first he could change her, and she had done her best to be what he would like. But she was, after all, herself - she couldn’t help that; and now there was no use pretending, wearing a mask or a dress, for he knew her and had made up his mind. (462)

    She has to change and be something she is not only to suit her husband: “he said to her one day that she had too many ideas and that she must get rid of them. He had told her that already, before their marriage; but then she had noticed it: it had come back to her only afterwards” (465). According to Gilbert and Gubar, what Dorothea and Isabel are seeking in their marriages is to be overwhelmed by the new life and the feeling of becoming somebody’s equal. Both get imprisoned by their husbands but also by society which is controlled by men similar to their husbands (507).Isabel is forced to accept that her marriage is a reverse to her declining other more suitable and better offers from other suitors. She is compelled to live with her decision and accept it for what it is and accept it for the rest of her life:

    “Between those four walls she had lived ever since; they were to surround her for the rest of her life. It was the house of darkness, the house of dumbness, the house of suffocation. Osmond’s beautiful mind gave it neither light nor air; Osmond’s beautiful mind indeed seemed to peep down from a small high window and mock at her.” (466)

    According to Underwood, Isabel finally understands her choice in committing to a marriage with Osmond and accepts her future life, caged in a marriage leading to a death of soul in which she will be confined in his imprisonment (51).


    In this essay, I have explored the importance of men versus women in society in the Victorian Era in order to exemplify and show how women were supposed to behave and conduct themselves. My thesis is that Dorothea and Isabel share the same fate and same outcome, being trapped in a world without having a say and being dominated by men, despite having the zest for life. It has clearly been shown how society played an important role for Dorothea and Isabel, and their progress in the social hierarchy. In order to make a difference, they needed to marry powerful men with high status to take part in a “male” world where women did not belong. This was the wrong choice which was made by two of the women and it changed their fate for life.

    To present my argument, I have tried to show how Dorothea and Isabel are connected through their choices in marriage and on the basis of needs and thinking. I have used critical material to show the difficulties these women of the Victorian Era had to go through, in order to prosper in society, as well as how strong women were treated with great unfairness just because of their independent minds. I have presented the arguments that how the differences in the thinking of women and the society eventually leads to their spiritual death. Further, besides this, I evaluated from the society’s point of view that to develop importance in the society, the women are required to marry the powerful man. Alone they do not have significance in the male dominated society.

    Works Sited

    • Barry, Peter. Beginning theory. An Introduction to literary and cultural theory. (2nd edition). Manchester university Press. 2002
    • Brannon, Linda. Gender:Psychological perspectives. Boston, Pearson Education. 2005Brody,
    • Selma B.Dorothea Brooke and Henry James’s Isabel Archer. Science Museum of Long Island and St. John’s University, 1992.
    • Crawford, Mary & Unger, Rhoda. Women and gender: a feminist psychology. New York, McGraw-Hill, 2004.
    • Gibaldi, Joseph. Modern Language Association of America. (7th edition). New York, 2009
    • Gilbert, Sandra M., and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic. (2nd edition). New Haven: Yale UP, 2000.
    • Hinton, Laura. Giving Isabel an “Ado” (Adieu): Sympathy and Sadomasochism in Henry James’s Preface to The Portrait of a Lady. City Collage of New York, 2000.

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