Dear Dorothea Sharp: The first fictional feminist? Bah] George Eliot must have been tearing her hair out as she penned her creation's fate
Thursday 20 January 1994
I have heard you described as the greatest heroine in Victorian literature, the first fictional feminist. Well, I'm sorry, but you're no role model for me.
Let's look at it this way. You're beautiful, wealthy, well-bred and clever; fired up with passion and worthy ambition. So what do you do? You get yourself hitched to a dried-up old pedant like Edward Casaubon. Not only that, but you give him your money] Cold, hard cash - your currency of independence - and you just give it away. And where did it get you and your lofty ideals? Nowhere. Your money is all tied up in his will and you have to make a choice between solitary good works in comfort and impoverished true love.
Here's how you should have done it. You want to improve the lot of the working classes, right? Then just do it. You have the means; you don't have to attach yourself to a man to succeed. You have money, ergo you have power. And in the face of male opposition, try heaving your decollete up and down a bit. Using sex got Scarlett O'Hara where she wanted to be. She soon realised that money and beauty are a girl's best friends (OK, so she ended up without Rhett and her reputation in tatters, but hell, at least she lived.)
Which brings me to my other point. Why do you dress like a nun? Being female isn't a crime, and beauty doesn't preclude brains. You're far more likely to bring joy to the hearts of consumptive peasants if you're wearing a nice frock than if you're dripping around dispensing charity with your face in your boots.
I know you'll just tell me that it's different for you, living in such morally straitened times. I do have it easier. But I have the benefit of hindsight, and I know that great changes, such as those sweeping your town of Middlemarch, have to start somewhere, and if you had only struck out and used your idealism and passion in a different way - independently and powerfully - it could have been the best good work you never did. As it is, even Agnes Grey has more backbone than you.
I can't believe that George Eliot meant for you to turn out this way. She lived outside 'respectable' society for most of her life, and it never did her any harm. Surely she despaired as she scratched out your fate page by page? Surely she never intended you to be the great heroine you have been so mistakenly taken for?
I'm being harsh, I know. But as a post-feminist to a would-be founder member: do your good works, Dodo, then get out there and party.
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