Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Sylvia's Feminism

On the other hand, Sylvia represents the modern woman of the time. She moves in a circle of decadent upper-class women. She is celebrated for her sophistication. She is a fearless ascetic who is not controlled by social norms; however, in contrast to Valentine, she is dangerously controlled by her selfish impulses. Silvia is not concerned at all with her society and its moral or religious beliefs. She is a rebellious woman who is displeased with the standards of her society. She shows that by making her own choices, she is in total control of her life.

The audience sympathizes with Sylvia because she represents all the expectations that women have of life and their relationships with men. Sylvia, like the heroines of many books, has a striking and classy beauty. She has a mysterious and enchanting personality that makes men want more of her – even if it is to their detriment. In contrast, Silvia’s attraction to men is only external; what motivates her to establish a love relationship is purely egotistic and social. She masters disdain when she is with her suitors. Even though she returns to Tietjens after leaving her lover, she does not do it for love; she does it to cause him torment, and, eventually, his ruin. Her anger is triggered by the fact that she is a catholic wife, and so unable to divorce him.

Sylvia is presented as a contradictory character; she represents the female’s repressive power over men. She is a woman who leaves and comes back, who destroys her relationships with men and renews them again and again. As an adulterous woman, Sylvia is not ashamed of her acts, but rather proud of them. In the novel, Sylvia also represents the struggles between the evil, amoral acts and the religious standards of her society. She turns out to be an ugly woman on the inside and a beautiful woman on the outside. Sylvia hates being a traditional, subservient woman. She is bored with tradition because it does not give her any options to exercise the freedom she wants to have. Therefore, Sylvia is forced to look for other men to free herself. Similarly, Ford portrays Sylvia as a character who represents the extreme opposite of the submissive view of feminism. She possesses all the negative male characteristics. She is cold, dominant, self-centered and aggressive. She looks only for social definition and advancement, is only interested in fulfilling herself, and no one else. She is unable to participate in a cooperative argument with males. Sylvia tends to manipulate and control any discussion through the explicit humiliation of the others. She demeans men with her prowess. She is seen to be a cruel, astonishingly attractive temptress.

However, let us not forget that, even though Sylvia is presented in a dark light, she is a kind of heroine in the novel. Her agency serves as a symbol that advocates a change to the classic female identity. Silvia’s agency and decision making expands the horizons of the females of her time.

by Tania Sanchez

Haslam, Sarah. Fragmenting modernism; Ford Madox Ford, the novel and the Great War. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2002.

Meixneir, John A. Ford Madox Ford Novels. Minneapolis, US: University of Minnesota Press, 1962.

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