According to Childs and Fowler (2006, p. 148), narration consists of two “overlapping aspects” that include the content and the form of its presentation. The content will be mostly covered in the following part of the essay; in this one, the forms of the three novels (The Mayor of Casterbridge, Evelina, and Sexing the Cherry) will be discussed.
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The type of narration that is used in Evelina by Fanny Burney (2011) is called epistolary: it is formed as a series of letters. Such an approach allows insights into the attitude of the characters towards the events, especially when the letters are addressed to close people. In Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson (2013), the narration is taken by several characters, and while Jordan and the Dog Woman are the main ones, their story is also used to frame those of the twelve dancing princesses. As a result, the insight into the characters’ attitudes, feelings is stronger than that in Evelina.
The technique of embedding twelve different stories into one frame is typically aimed at inviting the reader to contemplate the connections between them (Herman, Jahn & Ryan 2010, p. 134), and in this case, the feminist ideas appear to be the key connection. Finally, in The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy (2015), the narration is third-person and carried out in the past tense, which removes the narrator from the story. The narrator may recount the events as well as the thoughts and feelings of the characters, but the narration is detached from the action (Herman, Jahn & Ryan 2010, p. 342).
The gender that is at a disadvantage in the three novels is the female one, which can be explained by the restraints that were historically placed on women in the societies that are portrayed in the books. In The Mayor of Casterbridge, it is visible, for example, through actual human trade. Lucetta from the same book experiences another issue: she does not follow the requirements (restraints) of not engaging in a sexual relationship with a man who is not her husband and, as a result, her reputation is stained.
The only way to restore it consists in marrying the man with who she had the relationship with (Henchard), but he is married and remarried to Susan (who he had sold). Still, Lucetta attempts to play by the rules of society and proceeds to hope to marry until she realizes that Henchard is not the kind of man who can ensure her safety. In her case, while it cannot be denied that she has not been completely inactive and accepting of her position, she is saved by good luck represented by Farfrae who offers to marry her; otherwise, she would have to marry Henchard.
In the end, her love affair becomes publicly known, and the disapproval of society can be accounted for her seizure and death. Susan also attempts to survive: she does not resist Newson’s advances, names Newson’s daughter Elizabeth-Jane and passes her as the deceased daughter of Henchard and accepts the repeated courtship and marriage from Henchard. She is aware of all the constraints that are placed on her as a woman and try to secure the safety and her children using her limited options.
In Evelina, the gender-related limitations are intensified by the issues in her social status. She is beautiful and modest, which are the main qualities required of a woman at the time; she is also kind and rather brave, which can be illustrated by her intervention in Mr. Macartney’s suicide or her talk with her father. However, there is no apparent rebellion against her gender-shaped position in her activities; rather, she accepts this position and works to secure the “delicate” reputation of a woman.
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Her mother had married a man against the will of her parents, which may be regarded as a rebellious action. However, it resulted in ostracism; her husband denied the marriage; her daughter was not acknowledged by the grandparents and (supposedly) the father; the reputation of the whole family was stained. Still, it is important that Evelina’s status issue was primarily connected to the fact that she had not been acknowledged as her father’s daughter, which demonstrates that her mother had hardly any power over their fate. Another woman who may be regarded as challenging the position of women in Evelina is Mrs. Selwyn with her sarcastic and blunt remarks that, among other things, target misogyny, which is especially visible during her discussion with Lord Merton concerning the intelligence in women.
In Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson (2013), gender poses obvious limits to the twelve dancing princesses who find different ways to resolve their issues and live happily ever after without their abusive or otherwise unpleasant husbands. For example, the princess who married and loved the homosexual prince kills him and his male lover, but the one who was married to the infidel prince simply leaves him, and he dies of sexually transmitted diseases. Still, not all the princesses live happily ever after, and their stories and characters are very different (which the first-person narration helps to demonstrate).
For example, Rapunzel’s lover kisses her husband, and he turns into a frog. However, she used to live with Rapunzel before that, and the prince who came to “rescue” Rapunzel throws this princess out of the window and blinds her. She does not regain her sight, and although she says that Rapunzel “lived happily ever after, of course” (Winterson 2013, p. 52), it is questionable: nothing is said about Rapunzel falling in love with the prince. As for the Dog Woman, she is free of limitations and fights the potential oppression in the form of Puritans.
To sum up, the characters in the three novels are aware of the limitations that are placed on them. The earlier novels (Evelina and The Mayor of Casterbridge) portray characters who are incapable of fighting against these limitations; when they break the rules, they are severely punished by society and at the time, there could be no other outcome from such a rebellion. Sexing the Cherry is a twentieth-century book, even though its plot involves time-traveling; also, it incorporates magical realism.
As a result, the characters of this book fight against the restrictions placed upon them despite their period, and all of them get rid of their husbands (who represent the oppression), which implies that they succeed at least partially.
Burney, F 2011, Evelina, or, the history of a young lady’s entrance into the world, Floating Press, Washington.
Childs, P & Fowler, R 2006, The Routledge dictionary of literary terms, Routledge, London.
Hardy, T 2015, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Xist Publishing, Tustin.
Herman, D, Jahn, M & Ryan, M 2010, Routledge encyclopedia of narrative theory, Routledge, London.
Winterson, J 2013, Sexing the cherry, Random House, New York.