A Feministic Take on The Professor and the Madman

In Victorian England in the 18th century, Queen Victoria ruled with power and grace. She was an amazing mother, ruler and wife, proving women could be much more than expected of them in the 18th century. But women outside of the royal family were still not given a chance at education, employment, or any position of power for that matter.

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Drawing of 18th Century England (Photo from Wikipedia)

The Professor and the Madman is set in Victorian England during the 18th century, and as a result, excludes women almost entirely from the story-line. And not only are women excluded entirely from the story-line, but when they are included, are portrayed only in their relationship to a male character. The author himself, I think, is not trying to exclude women, but from the information he gathered, very little was written about women because of the lack of their importance back then.

To show you the little respect women get in this novel, I will bring up the only times women were mentioned, and in what context for what purpose.

The first woman introduced in the story is Eliza Merrett, the widowed wife of George Merrett.

Eliza Merrett in 18th century (Photo from The British Library)

George Merrett was murdered by Dr. Minor and is only mentioned a few times, with a slight backstory on his friends and family, which consisted of only men.

Eliza Merrett continued in the story much longer than her husband, yet received no backstory, contrary to her husband’s 3-page description, when his only part in the story was him getting shot. Eliza visits the man who shot her husband, Dr. Minor, a few times and is only kept in the story because she provides Dr. Minor with the necessary books to help write the dictionary (the main point of the story).

The second woman that was mentioned was Ada Murray.

Representation of typical 18th century women (Photo from Discovering Literature)

Ada was the wife of James Murray. Ada was described as “more his [James Murray’s] social and intellectual equal” (Winchester 61). This shows that Ada was considered intelligent, but is never mentioned to go anywhere beyond being a housewife and supporting her and James’ 11 children. Women’s main purpose in 18th century England were to be caregivers only, despite their potential to receive a higher education like Ada could have.

The third woman mentioned in the story is Dr. Minor’s mother, who was only mentioned once and only as Dr. Minor’s mother.

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Representation of an 18th century Victorian mother (From Diary Archive)

I should add, again, that these were the only women mentioned, and the only times they were mentioned, in a 250 page novel. To me, women were completely cut out of educational and workplace activities and were unable to serve any part in things like the creation of the dictionary. Due to such a limited use of women in the novel The Professor and the Madman, it is evident that women were not treated nearly as equal as men.

In addition to rarely being mentioned, they were considered uneducated and immature as well.

In this quote, women were mentioned as house maids, and were supposedly frightened by fireworks, scrambling inside to escape the loud noises, but the men were calm and collected, and tried to ignore the celebration as it distracted from their scholarly endeavors:

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Fireworks in London, England (From IB Times UK

Like the fire frightened housemaids who hurried back down to the servants’ entrances of the greathouses nearby…but there were men who had outgrown such energetic diversions, eager to escape the sound of excitement and celebration and return to scholarly discourse”. (Winchester 87-88)

Women in the Victorian era were treated similar to young children in today’s day and age.

As you know, England was even led by a woman, Queen Victoria at the time, but the women still received very little education and social status compared to men. It comes as no surprise that there is very little women who helped with the creation of the Oxford English dictionary, as there were almost no university-level educated women at the time.

Because of the huge lack of women playing significant parts in the story and the way women were talked about as immature and needy, it is very clear that women in the Victorian era were treated with indecency.

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First class of women graduating from school (Photo from Native Voices)

To further this idea, women were not only treated with a lack of respect, but also received almost no education. The first woman to graduate from a medical school was in 1850, with school being invented almost 100 years prior. The first dictionaries, unsuccessful I might add in their creation, were meant for the uneducated of the time: “educating of the uneducated (among whom were counted the women of the day, who often enjoyed little schooling)” (Winchester 93).

The author is aware of the women that were uneducated, but I find it very odd that he adds the word “enjoyed” to how much of the little schooling they received. I am sure he is in no position to make that assumption as he would have no evidence of what women want almost 200 years prior him writing the book.

TO help you further understand, I have created A multimedia presentation, where I combine visual and auditory effects to make an entertaining collage of A feminist literary perspective of The Professor and the Madman: