The extract from Trollope’s The Way We Live Now shows the change in dynamics in family power brought on by marriage. The patriarchal society of the Victorian era in the extract is portrayed by the characters Marie, and her parents Melmotte and Madame Melmotte. In the extract Marie is given illusory power over her father. This power is only valid because she is not under the power of her betrothed. Marie is juxtaposed against her mother Madame Melmotte, with the elder representing the stereotypical, and subservient, woman of the era.
The historical setting is established early in the extract through both language, and the prominent theme of gender stereotypes. The vocabulary used by Trollope, such as ‘ought,’ and names such as ‘Lord Nidderdale’ suggest that the prose was set in the Victorian era. Old fashioned notions of marriage are introduced into the extract, further accentuating the medieval views on women. The central theme in the extract is the change in the dynamics of family power brought on by Marie’s marriage.
The extract follows the transition from one figure dominance in Marie’s life to another. Melmotte no longer has absolute power of his daughter; however this can mislead the reader to interpret this loss of power as a gain on Marie’s part. Marie’s power is illusory because it is only a result of her change in allegiances, as she is now under the power of her betrothed. If Marie had not been engaged, she would have capitulated to her father’s demands.
The extract opens with a strong statement by Marie that was atypical for a woman in the Victorian time period – ‘I don’t think I will sign them.’ By stating this, Marie is defying her father, the man who supposedly has absolute authority over her. Melmotte is a character that often resorts to violence and Trollope suggests that he has previously physically abused Marie – ‘Marie began to prepare herself to be ‘cut to pieces.” Therefore, for Marie to defy her father, knowing the possible repercussions for herself, shows that she is already under the control of her fiancï¿½.
In this extract Marie is moving from one position of subservience to another. Through this transition Trollope is highlighting the oppression of women’s rights within society. The author also uses the character of Madame Melmotte to foretell what will become of Marie after she marries Lord Nidderdale. She will have no respite from a life dominated by males, and her decisions will never be her own.
Melmotte stated that he would only relinquish his authority over his daughter once she was married which means she will never be without a male figure of power – ‘[Lord Nidderdale] does not have authority over you yet.’ The extract exposes the vicious cycle occurring in society, because similarities between Madame Melmotte and Marie are already beginning to emerge. Both wholly defend their spouse. Madame Melmotte defends her husband saying that Marie should ‘do as [her] father bids [her].’
A contrast is established between Madame Melmotte and Marie which accentuates the subservience of women in that time period. Madame Melmotte represents the stereotypical wife who is of no importance to society. Initially she is not given a name and is referred to only by her title, ‘wife.’ Through this title the author exposes the social belief that women are only an element of their husband’s public image, and have no identity of their own. Unlike Marie, throughout the extract Madame Melmotte is not given a first name which emotionally distances the reader from the character. By using the last name ‘Melmotte’ the author is drawing parallels between her and her husband, also called ‘Melmotte.’
The only male character in the extract is Marie’s father, Melmotte. Melmotte abuses his position of power, manipulating those around him. It is shown that he is a compulsive liar, as he refers to his attempted manipulation of Marie as ‘his work.’ Melmotte is comfortable in his control over both Madame Melmotte and Marie, and Marie’s defiance breaks his short temper. When Marie informed him of the obvious shortcomings of his lies, instead of verbally responding he struggled to control the need to violently strike back – ‘he longed to … shake the wickedness … and ingratitude out of her.’ Following the revelation that Melmotte desired to resort to violence, the diction in the extract changed dramatically. The phrases in Melmotte’s dialogue become shorter in length, which showed his patience approaching its limit. The phrases were also dramatic and designed to instil guilt into Marie – ‘[Marie] does not care who is ruined.’ This passage shows that Melmotte has not accepted the transferral of power over Marie.
This extract from The Way We Live Now exposes the powerlessness of women in Victorian society. Trollope creates an illusion of power in a central female character, Marie. It becomes evident that this power is not Marie’s, but only an extension of that belonging to her betrothed. The character Madame Melmotte is an embodiment of the stereotypical Victorian wife. She also provides a template for Marie’s future, which is that of a subservient wife. This extract provides an insight into the differences family dynamics in the Victorian era and the transferral of power in a marriage from a father to a husband.