Comparison between the Mentality of Men and Women in a Relationship in the Victorian Age

Tushar Kanti Baidya
12 min readAug 8, 2020

Although men and women create a flourishing society, ample differences are observed between the mentalities of both sexes when they are involve in a relationship. Men give influence on physical love and women give importance on Platonic love. Men always want to dominate their beloved by making them their own puppets. They want purity in their beloved; physical purity is more important to them than spiritual purity. On the contrary, women were passive; always forgiving the misdeeds of their beloved and focuses on spiritual purity. Their love for their beloved transcends time. There is fundamental comparison between the mentality of men and women in a relationship in the Victorian Age because men are proud and jealous, emphasizing on physical love and impatience, where as women are passionate, emphasizing on Platonic love and have patience in a relationship.

Genre and the Structure of the Poems

“My Last Duchess” is a dramatic monologue of Robert Browning. The rhyme scheme of this poem is aabbccdd. It is written in iambic pentameter, which has ten syllables, or five beats, per line. The ten syllables consist of five pairs of unstressed and stressed syllables. Lines 1 and 2 of the poem show the iambic-pentameter pattern.

…….1……2……..3……..4……..5

That’s MY..|..last DUCH..|..ess PAINT..|..ed ON..|..the WALL,

The turning point of the poem starts from the line forty five, where the Duke gives command to remove the Duchess because of her behavior which is irritating to the Duke which begs us to think that he either had her exiled or killed. The writer Ashby Bland Crowder in his article “Porphyria’s Lover: A Reason for Action” states that, “Eggenschwiler himself compares the speaker to the Duke in ‘My Last Duchess,’ who got rid of his inadequate duchess and replaced her with an object that he could control” (Crowder 146). The Duke cannot control the Duchess when she was alive. Hence, he made her a portrait in order to have power over her. In the line forty seven, he finishes telling the story and asks the marriage agent to meet others downstairs. He is going to remarry the Count’s daughter. It is an ultimatum given to the prospective bride that she should be loyal and subservient to him or her condition will be the same like his last Duchess. Peter Barry in his book Beginning Theory writes, “A well- known example of these mechanisms is the Freudian slip, which Freud himself called the ‘parapraxis,’ whereby repressed material in the unconscious finds an outlet through such everyday phenomena as slips of the tongue, slips of the pen, or unintended actions” (Barry 98). If a person has anything in his mind which is congruent with his real nature, it will be expressed one day consciously or unconsciously. In the line fifty four, the Duke gives the reference of the God of the sea, who in Greek mythology is named “Neptune” (L 54). He shows a bronze statue of “Neptune” who was taming a sea horse. Basically, he is like Neptune who is good at taming females. Hence, he did not miss to show it to the marriage agent because his real nature has a similarity with the divine “Neptune”. The anaphora in this poem is the word “Alive” (ll 2, 47) because the poet uses it several times in the poem and the word has a specification.[1]

[1] The use of anaphoric word “alive” is again suggestive of how he can have his bride “removed” if her behavior is not up to standard.

“Porphyria’s Lover” is another dramatic monologue of Robert Browning. The rhyme scheme of this poem is ababb. It is written in iambic tetrameter which has eight syllables, or four beats, per line. The eight syllables consist of four pairs of unstressed and stressed syllables. There are repetitions of consonant sounds in this poem called alliteration (ll 2, 21, 34, 42, 48, 57). The poet uses the word “And” (ll 4, 8, 12, 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 41, 46, 55, 58, 59, 60) several times in the poem which is an anaphora. The turning point of the poem occurs, when the speaker suddenly kills Porphyria by strangling her with her own hair.

“Ulysses” is a dramatic monologue of Alfred Lord Tennyson which has no rhyme scheme. There is no similarity in the structure of the lines in the poem.[1]

“How Do I Love Thee?” is a sonnet of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. It is written by following the structure of Petrarchan sonnet. It is a fourteen line poem divided into two parts, an eight lines octave and six lines sestet. The octave usually rhymes abba, abba and the sestet cd, cd, cd.[2] It is

[1] Robert Langbum in his book The Poetry of Experience says, “In a warton Lecture 1925 which remains the best study of the dramatic monologue, M.W. MacCallum sees sympathy as its way of meaning:

But in every instance… the object [of the dramatic monologue]

is to give facts from within. A certain dramatic understanding

of the person speaking, which implies a certain dramatic sympathy

with him is not only the essential condition, but the final cause

of the whole species” [SIC] (Langbum 78).

[2] Steven Martin in his book English Literature a Student Guide writes, “Petrarchan sonnet is a fourteen lines poem divided into two parts, an eight line octave and a six line sestet. The octave usually rhymes abba abba, the sestet cde cde or cd cd cd. The octave generally states the theme, the sestet its answer or reconciliation” (Martin 37).

written in iambic pentameter which has ten syllables, or five beats, per line. The ten syllables consist of five pairs of unstressed and stressed syllables. The anaphoras of this poem are “I,” “Love,” “Thee” (ll 1, 2, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13) because the poet has used this words several times in the poem.[1]

Tess of the D’Urbervilles is a novel of Thomas hardy where he shows his profound sense of moral compassion for the rural women of England who belongs to lower classes. In this novel he reveals out the double standards or hypocrisy of Victorian men in their love and relationship.

Pride and Jealousy Vs. Passionate Love

Pride and jealousy works behind the dominating nature of Victorian men. In “Porphyria’s Lover” Browning portraits the abnormal psychology of a man who murdered his beloved named Porphyria by strangling her with her own hair. The writer Lee Erickson in his article “The Self and Other’s in Browning’s ‘Men and Women’” states, “The most common sign in Browning’s dramatic monologues of a character’s underdeveloped self- consciousness is pride” (Erickson 48). In the poem “Porphoriya’s Lover,” the speaker’s social status appears to be lower than Pophyria’s. The word “Porphyria” came from the Greek word “Porphyrus” which means purple. In the Victorian Era purple was a colour of aristocracy. Browning wanted to show the difference between the social status of Porphyria and her lover by using the name “Porphyria.” Even though there is difference between the social status, Porphyria comes to confess her love to her lover in such a gloomy and dark night. In the poem “Pophyria’ Lover” The poet Robert Browning writes:

“But passion sometimes would prevail,
Nor could tonight’s gay feast restrain
A sudden thought of one so pale
For love of her, and all in vain:
So, she was come through wind and rain.” (ll 26- 30)

Porphyria is an extrovert lady who keeps busy with societal commitments. There is ultimately no reason for her to love such a man who lives in a normal cottage. However, her passionate love did not matter for the speaker. He wants her to be with him forever; so he kills her. Too much pride and unripe self-consciousness guided the speaker to commit this heinous act.

Similarly, in the poem “My Last Duchess,” the Duke kills his wife due to excessive pride and jealousy. He is angry because his wife was equally amused by everything. She used to evaluate the gifts she got from her husband with the gifts she got from an ordinary officer as the same. The last Duchess was literally a smiling and loving woman. It is her right as a human being to express her feelings. Why will she change her attitude only to make her husband happy? Why cannot she freely express her thoughts and feelings? Why will she be a puppet of her husband? She has done the same as any extrovert and a woman of strong personality would do. As a result, she has to sacrifice her life. In the Victorian age, society also looks down upon women. They think women are the property of their husbands. Hence, the

[1] I have collected the information of the genre and structure of the poems from Cummings Study guide. http://www.cummingsstudyguides.net/index.html#Online%20Guides

Duchess had not found any other ways but to give her life because society will blame her. Society will not understand the independence of women. They will say why is the last Duchess smiling and thanking others, knowing her husband does not accept or like that? Her husband never discussed his annoyance with her. How will she understand then that her natural simplicity is the reason of her husband’s anger?

Society might say it is her duty as a woman to understand the thoughts of her husband. Actually, society has created all these critical laws to make women subservient. For these reasons Tess did not get any help from her parents and neighbors to bring any charge against Alec who seduces her. Barry in his book states that “Feminists pointed out, for example, that in nineteenth- century fiction very few women work for a living, unless they are driven to it by dire necessity” (Barry 122). In the nineteenth century women never worked outside unless and until they face difficulty in running their household. Tess is a simple village girl who goes to work in a poultry farm of their fake relative named Simon Stoke D’Urbervilles because their horse died in an unfortunate accident. Their horse is the only source of income for their family; without the horse her family has to starve. Simon Stoke D’Urbervilles’ son, Alec, wants to take sexual advantage of Tess. Alec fulfills his wishes one night which changes Tess forever. He is responsible to send Tess to her tragic end. In the above stated three incidences it is clear that the males are full of pride and jealousy whereas on the contrary, the females are always showing their passionate love.

Physical Love Vs. Platonic Love

In the Victorian era, men emphasized on physical love and women emphasized on Platonic love. Physical purity is more important to men than spiritual purity. In the novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles Tess loves Angel Clare very dearly. However, she is not physically pure. She is seduced by Alec and gives birth to an illegitimate son named Sorrow. Tess is not aware of the dark side of a man’s character. She never heard anything from her mother or never read anything from any books. Her mother did not make her conscious because she thought it will be a great opportunity for Tess to marry Alec by attracting him with her body. Tess’ family is very poor and the beauty of Tess is the only weapon her mother decides to use to improve their condition.

Without being a culprit, she bears every punishment of society. She does not get a happy conjugal life. Her husband Angel Clare is the son of a parson but behaves like Alec indirectly. Alec uses her body for his pleasure but Angel uses her emotions and examines her patience. Both of them are responsible for Tess’ tragedy. Tess loses her value when she tells about her past to Angel. He leaves her and goes to Brazil. Angel was involved in a relationship before he meets Tess and wants to take Izz Huett (a girl who works in the farm of Talbothays with Tess) to Brazil as his mistress. Tess is a blue blooded girl just like Porphyria. The difference between them is only their present condition. Porphyria is rich and Tess is not rich. However, same ending happens to both of them. Being a male, Angel is not a culprit in the eyes of society. However, it is mandatory for a female to be physically pure not a male. In the poem “My Last Duchess,” the Duke removes his wife because he thinks his wife is losing purity by talking to other people.

On the contrary, Elizabeth Barrett Browning refers to the ways in which she loves her husband in the poem “How Do I love thee?” At first she wants to count the ways of loving her husband[1]. She loves her husband as vehemently as men fight for their rights. The people who are fighting for any noble cause do not want any praise in return. Her love is so pure that she does not want any praise in return from anybody. She loves her husband passionately and this passion is the same as her intensity in sorrows and childhood beliefs. She loves him with a revival of the purity of emotions she felt as a child. In the poem “How Do I Love Thee” Elizabeth Barrett Browning writes:

“I love thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints! — I love thee with the breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if God choose,

I shall but love thee better after death.” (ll 9–14)

She loves her husband with all her existence in all the situations of her life. The situations can be both pleasant like “smiles” and unpleasant like “tears.” If God permits her then she will love her husband better after she dies. Sexual pleasures are needed by every human after a certain age. However, there is no need of physical love after death because human body does not have to fulfill the sexual needs. A person can only give emphasis on spiritual love after death because the soul never dies. The speaker’s soul will live forever and she wants to love her husband spiritually. Consequently, there is absence of physical love and her love transcends time.

Patience Vs. Impatience

Women are patient about love and relationship but men are impatient. In the poem “Ulysses,” Alfred Lord Tennyson describes Ulysses as an adventurous and great warrior who fought in the Trojan War while his wife waited for him for twenty years. After coming back from the War, he is addressing his wife “as an aged wife.” In the poem “Ulysses” Alfred L. Tennyson writes:

“It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole” (ll 1–3)

Ulysses is measuring his love with business because in business we measure profit and loss. His wife’s physical beauty is more important to him. Maybe, he is comparing his wife Penelope with the beautiful mythical women “Siren.” Sirens are the creatures that stay at the sea beach to attract the sailors with their fake beauty. The writer Joseph A. Kestner in his article “Ulysses: Victorian Iconography of the Odysseus Myth” states that “In this canvas, the Siren has laid aside her lyre to expose her naked body to the mariners on the ships, almost dangerously near the coast” (Kestner 568). Sailors get easily attracted with the physical beauty of these devils. As they are not humans their beauty is eternal for whole life.[2] However, human beauty fades away with time. Ulysses is unappreciative of the strength of his wife’s love that makes her wait for him for twenty years. She could have easily married anyone to fulfill her sexual needs after Ulysses went to Trojan War. As a woman she evoked her spiritual love and waited for him. In the novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Tess patiently waits for her husband as well. She deeply believes in her mind that her husband will come back which happens at last when it was too late. Tess has to become the mistress of Alec to ensure the shelter and clothing of her family members. Their reunion does not happen and Tess is sentenced to death for killing Alec.

In conclusion, as I have tried to show in this essay, there are comparisons between the mentality of men and women in a relationship in the Victorian Age because men are proud and jealous, emphasizing on physical love and impatience in relationship whereas women are passionate, emphasizing on Platonic love and have patience in an amorous relationship. It cannot be ignored that society plays a vital role to create the characteristics of men and women along with hypocrisy or double standards which are present in the men’s character that influenced them to tame the females according to their likings. Society has created several rules that make women more passive and the puppets of their beloved. Hence, a little bit flexibility and openness in the mentality of males can save the lives of females who are killed brutally without being concern of their faults.

[1] For many years Elizabeth Barrett Browning was best known for her Sonnets from the Portuguese, a sequence of forty- four sonnets presented under the guise of translation from the Portuguese language, in which she recorded the stages of her love for Robert Browning.(Norton Anthology, Seventh Edition, Volume- 2)

[2] In the poem “Ulysses,” Alfred L. Tennyson reframes the form of Ulysses by portraying on the ancient hero of Homer’s Odyssey. “Ulysses” is the Roman form of the Greek “Odysseus.” (Kestner, Joseph A. “Ulysses”: Victorian Iconography of the Odysseus Myth. James Joyce

Quarterly. 28.3 (1991): 565- 594. Jstor. Web. 15 April 2013.)

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Tushar Kanti Baidya

Educator and Human Rights Activist from Dhaka, Bangladesh