GRANDMERE, MA SLAPEM , MRS KIT CERIDWEN KENRICK AND AGNES – HARDLY TAME WOMEN


The education of women in the eighteenth century concentrated on the arts of allurement.

If the sweet innocent Sophie is to some extent Émile’s dupe, then many of the other female characters in my story border on the overbearing if not the alarming .

This might seem surprising, given that the story is set at a time when females were seen as intrinsically inferior and relegated largely to the domestic sphere. Long gone were the times when a Roman soldier commented with appalled respect on the fighting prowess of the Celtic warriors’ wives.

The Victorian age, where women were increasingly represented as a strange sort of feeble ‘Domestic Goddess’ and a terror of sexuality led to absurd lengths of oppression was about to dawn.

In the old days of herbal medicine, woman had had some control over their reproduction; this knowledge was lost. Now women were increasingly defined in terms of their reproductive role.

Even in the upper class into which Sophie is introduced, it was only thought necessary for women to acquire the superficial rudiments of an education – much emphasis was put on a Lady’s ‘accomplishments’ instead (it is as well for Sophie that she has a lovely singing voice and a talent for playing the piano). Such skills as dancing, conversation and deportment made a young woman a pleasant companion rather than an intellectual equal.

Then – as much later – much emphasis was placed in the middle classes upwards  on ‘Womanly’ behaviour.

This, of course, was less of an issue further down the social scale. Such women had no choice but to contribute to the household income and were far more ‘out in the world’. As a result, Agnes, Mrs Kit and over in France, Francoise’s Grandmere and ‘Ma Slapem’ are far less inhibited than Sophie by ladylike notions and a habit of subservience to the male.

Earlier in the eighteenth century, Samuel Richardson’s view that a woman’s husband was her ‘head’ is stated as fact rather than an opinion in Pamela (Mr B uses this argument to back up his point that he has not demeaned himself in marrying his maidservant, while a woman who married her ‘sordid groom’ was letting herself in for inevitable moral deterioration).

Some voices were raised in opposition to such views – for instance, Mary Shelley’s mother Mary Woollenstonecroft – but generally, this went unchallenged.

It was considered advisable for a husband to censor his wife’s reading material. Thus, Lord Ynyr asks Émile if he is willing to let Sophie read the book on the myths of Eastern Europe.

As a man with very liberal views on women for the time Émile agrees, adding lightly that he ‘Will try not to be too controlling’ (and if his eyes flash in a sinister way at the thought of her daring to examine evidence about the development of the vampire state, nobody notices). This claim of his is, given his later tendency to keep her confined – for her own safety, of course – in their marital home, highly ironic).

Émile’s views on women may be advanced for the time – he thinks that a wife has a right to sexual fulfillment in an age when sexual brutality to women in marriage was commonplace – but he can’t imagine a wife as being anything but a charming companion to return to,  the mistress of his household and mother of his children.

He also takes delight (increasingly sinister) in Sophie’s guilelessness, as exemplified by her inability to be a worthy opponent at chess.

Later on, he remarks that they can’t have a proper discussion on the dangers of his involving himself in Kenrick’s experiments with time travel because ‘You are no mathematical blue stocking, for which I am grateful. Imagine being married to such a one!’

However, besides underestimating Sophie, he reckons without the influence of Agnes. He owes her a debt of gratitude for looking after him in his illness and is reluctant to fall out with her, but he regards her as ‘redoutable’ and doesn’t underestimate her strength of character.

Then, there is Mrs Kit, their new housekeeper and wife of his one time partner in crime, Kit. A blunt, loud, downright vulgar woman, she makes her outrage at Émile  and Georges change into blood sucking monsters quite clear.

In the story (as no doubt, in real life) the problem for the males is how to control these Domestic Goddesses.

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