Writing as a feminist (am I allowed to?), we shouldn’t do the Victorians down. They had plenty of female role models, and not all of them nurses, mothers or the Queen – see Grace Darling. Researching children’s and young adults’ literature in the late 19th century – looking for ‘imperialism’ – I came across the books of Bessie Marchant, writing (essentially) boys’ books for girls, with strong, adventurous and transgressive young female heroines (‘sheros’), wrestling with gorillas and all the rest. Then, last night, with Kajsa’s grandchildren staying with us, I saw the 2010 Walt Disney Alice in Wonderland for the first time. What a film! And what a difference computers have made to animation! Thinking back to the original Alice stories, however, made me realize that Victorian girls did have powerful and intelligent fictional role models. In Sweden, as I understand it, these started with Pippi Longstocking. But Alice was nearly a hundred years before her. And my God, what a strong, transgressive character she is!
But – there’s always a ‘but’, isn’t there – may this not simply be because they were girls? When Bessie Marchant’s heroines grew up into women, they dutifully married and settled down. We all know that the girls the Rev Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) liked to play with (no sniggering there!) were pre-pubescent. I’m not sure how old Grace Darling was.
I imagine literary scholars and theorists have gone into all this already. So I won’t add any more of my ignorant male musings.