Death as freedom in 19th century women’s literature: an escape from idleness
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Few would argue that Victorian writers were death-averse; generally, at least one of their novels or poems consists of a hefty, symbolic death that transforms the other characters around them. Being so numerous, these deaths’ meanings undoubtedly vary—from messages about grief and sorrow to themes of freedom and afterlife—and grow more profound when examined in the feminine context in 19th century Britain. In so examining writers like Charlotte Bronte, Felicia Hemans, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, it is important to note that these women held enormously powerful positions in Victorian societies: the position to express and discern the struggles of British women. And with struggle comes a perhaps freeing death. These women, however, are anomalous in that they rose to a point in which they may inform and inspire the women who had been facing the same obstacles as they—women’s education, the ‘separate spheres,’ views of female artists, and so on. Considering these struggles, a compelling argument for death as freedom is there, and these women hint at it throughout their works. Death can be freeing in 19th century women’s literature, particularly in two ways: internally for the woman in a time of romantic, societal, or political strife; and symbolically in the context of ‘the Fallen Woman’ and purity.