The Enclosed Space in the Neo-Victorian Works of Swift, Byatt and Carey - Conclusion

Marta Cobb '97 (English 168, 1996)

Women in the Victorian era, the setting of many of these novels, and, as Byatt would argue, women of today, exist in enclosed spaces. In earlier times, women of the lower classes frequently had to work, but women of the middle and upper classes had few options for life outside of the home. In the present, when women with skills and intelligence can have careers, the enclosed space has altered, but it still exists. Women, like Maud Bailey, must enclose themselves to keep from losing what they have gained. In Possession, Waterland, and Oscar and Lucinda, although women often find themselves forced into either physically or psychologically constrained spaces -- such as crinolines or a general lack of formal education -- some create enclosed spaces for themselves that offer refuge from other constraints but also entraps them at the same time. This space, in both the physical, but more importantly, the psychological world, allows LaMotte her creativity, Lucinda an anxiety-ridden safety, and Mary a means of escape from the terrible past and the emptiness of reality. These spaces, however, prove fragile. Lucinda's money could not save Oscar or herself, Mary's attempt to escape drives her mad, and Christabel's Bethany house crumbles at her departure. Whether a blessing or a curse, the enclosed space also comes at a great cost that some are not always willing to pay. In each character's life, there comes a time to leave the safety of the space and attempt to live without shelter. Some, like Lucinda, succeed, while others, like Mary, fall back into enclosure and madness, and still others, like Christabel, find themselves crushed by the world outside, but they cannot reject the blessings it gave them. Finally, others, as Maud does, stand on the verge of departure, not knowing what will become of them, but knowing that they must try to survive outside the golden cage.

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