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Forming and performing the female identity in Daniel Deronda

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  1. Introduction.
  2. The works of George Eliot and their examination of the way English institutions required performances of nationality.
  3. The most seductive trait of Femininity.
  4. The fascination of Gwendolen's character.
  5. Another aspect of Victorian femininity that contributes to the knowledge of the female situation.
  6. The situation of sisterhood - pivotal to Victorian womanhood.
  7. Conclusion.

The Victorian era thrived on ideals; knowing their world is more than knowing the facts of British politics, of documented interactions, or popular amusements, it is striving to understand the light in which they saw themselves, the real or ideal roles society endeavored to fulfill. As Lynn Voskuil explains, ?In nineteenth-century England. . . theatricality and authenticity often functioned dynamically together to construct the symbolic typologies by which the English knew themselves as individuals, as a public, and as a nation,? (Voskuil 2004, 2). To define oneself by the fulfillment of archetypical notions requires a social performance that seems to conversely relate to the very ideal of authenticity. There are many cases in which an individual's own goals and morals align perfectly with those that society as a whole dictates, but there still requires performative expression of these shared ideals. The term ?natural acting' was coined by theatre critic (and partner of George Eliot) George Henry Lewes, to describe cases in which an individual uses acting not to mask their motives, but to explore their true emotions and present themselves accurately to the world.

[...] Gwendolen is introduced through the eyes of Daniel Deronda, in a gambling scene of self-fashioned drama and allure. His perusal is like that of art; he ponders whether she was "beautiful or not beautiful? And what was the secret of form or expression which gave the dynamic quality to her glance??(Eliot 1986, 35). The terms ?secret of form? and ?dynamic quality? evoke dialogue about the Golden Ratio employed in Renaissance portraiture, or the proportioned aesthetics of classic sculptures. Gwendolen is indeed an artist, using her own body as her medium, not to express any inner truth of self, but rather for the sheer power of aesthetics. [...]


[...] Michie writes, fact that sisters in Victorian texts frequently compete with and replace each other should not blind us to the fact that within the protective idiom of sisterhood, women could express anger and sexuality in a way unavailable to them in the context of other relations, certainly including those with (Michie 1992, 21). As we shall see in Daniel Deronda, the institution of sisterhood is strongest in cases of theoretical relation, rather than blood ties, and its subtlety of identification is essential to the growth of the main female characters, yet not ever formally recognized. [...]


[...] friendship trained women to be good wives by teaching them particularly feminine ways of loving,? (Marcus 2007, 39). These were the idealized social conceptions; the reality of female friendship, companionship, and intimacy of course differed in form and substance. Marcus posits that even as friendship consolidated gender roles, it also ?provided women with socially permissible opportunities to engage in behavior commonly seen as the monopoly of men: competition, active choice, appreciation of female beauty, and struggles with religious belief,? (Marcus 2007, 26). [...]

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