Monday, March 26, 2007

Valentine's Feminism

Ford introduces two female heroines in the novel – Valentine, a suffragette and a socialist; and Sylvia, a beautiful, classy aristocrat and legal wife to Tietjens. The suffragettes were women who campaigned militantly to be given the right to vote in public elections in the early twentieth century. These women are caught between their social status, their religion, and Victorian sexual morality.

Valentine is portrayed as an avid follower of the women’s movement. She campaigns ardently in support of the right to vote for women. Even though Valentine seems to be a sweet and innocent person, she is also direct and courageous. She tries to help everyone, and demonstrates extreme self-sacrifice, as any woman of the time will do, but she is also an extremely intelligent and self-confident woman who is not afraid to say what she thinks or fight for her ideals. Valentine is a woman who, in opposition to the women of the time, has not been formally educated, but has been encouraged to pursue athletic sports. Therefore, she has a slim, athletic figure. However, she is able to sustain scholarly debates with Tietjens and she demonstrates an almost professional knowledge of classical languages. Even though her mother is a writer and her father was an eminent professor, she is forced into poverty. The death of her father removed her from the social circles to which she was entitled. She is, lamentably, obliged to work as a housemaid for her own mother; therefore, her life circumstances make her seriously consider the prevailing socialist ideals and suffering of women. Paradoxically, Valentine proves to be an emotionally sensitive woman who is able to express what she feels, however, she does it without been overridden by her emotions or her female sensitivity. She appears to be the perfect women, a woman with the perfect amount of strength and sensibility.

Valentine represents the separation from patriarchal ideas; she stands against war, she pursues happiness over all – she is a woman who is extremely courageous and constantly searching for love. She is entirely truthful with herself. She is the perfect woman for Tietjens, a man who is trapped with his principles and his gentleman behavior. Through Valentine, Ford shows that women can live harmoniously with female and male characteristics. She is a proto-feminist who, at the same time, can fulfill the needs of her lover Tietjens. Valentine asserts her individuality through her own argument. She is ready to listen to the male perspective in ordinary and political issues, but she is not afraid to confront the men with her own argument in a peaceful and civilized manner. She cooperates in the argument without compromising herself, or humiliating others. Valentine not only self-sacrifices to help others, but she also uses this virtue to promote and help other people within the feminine system. She is not only interested in her personal advancement, but rather in the civil advancement of all women. She uses all of her energy to help women promote social change. Even though she is defined through self-sacrifice, Valentine uses her energy to achieve her own goals as well. She is a woman whose behavior significantly diverts from the moral standards of the time, but still achieves spiritual advancement.

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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