The Politics of Sex and Gender in Middlemarch, “The Goblin Market” and “A Castaway”

The Politics of Sex and Gender in Middlemarch, “The Goblin Market” and “A Castaway”
By Morgan Pinder

Discourse regarding gender in Victorian literature has its foundation in an entrenched, and for the most part unchallenged binary. Coming out of the Georgian and Regency eras the societal expectations placed upon a woman were very clearly those of subservience and benignity, whereas the man was able to execute a level of agency that, while limited by class restrictions, was far more liberal than that of their wives, mothers and daughters. Men had control over family wealth and power, whereas everything a woman had at her disposal was within her own person, that is her virtue, morality, intelligence and drive to survive or nurture. It would be all too easy to paint men as the oppressors, as the enemy of women, but the Victorian depiction of the relationship and the power dynamic between the genders is often complex. In this essay I will explore the primary texts Middlemarch (Eliot, 2015), “The Goblin Market” (Rossetti, 2017) and “A Castaway” (Webster, 2017) and how each depicts the complex interplay of gender relations and power.

Christina Rossetti

Central to Rosetti’s depiction of femininity is the idea of sisterhood and the relationships between women, particularly, but not exclusively those who are biologically related (Casey, 64). The sisters, Laura and Lizzie, live a very simple existence but derive strength comfort and warmth from their relationship with each other. As there is no mention of any other people in their home lives they seem to lead an isolated, but happy and safe existence (Rossetti, 184-198). It is only through the strength of their bond, and Lizzie’s sacrifice for her sister that they are able to overcome the goblins and their curse. The action Lizzie takes to save her sister from temptation and ruin makes her a Christ like figure in an era when men were commonly the redeemers. Lizzie as the figure of sisterly redemption echoes the notion of sisterhood that was gaining increasing traction, not only through religion but also through the more secular practice of nursing made prominent in the contemporary public consciousness (Casey, 64).

The projected image of masculinity in “The Goblin Market” is presented as a dichotomy of sorts; there are the goblins who would steal the morality and virtue of the sisters, and their eventual husbands with whom they are happily married in the conclusion (Rossetti, 544). The husbands and the situation of being married do not seem oppressive, or destructive as the Goblins did, providing evidence to suggest that Rossetti is not using the masculine as the enemy of the feminine, but rather that men have the potential to operate via trickery and vice can be deployed to enslave young women and girls (Casey, 67). In the end the weakness of the Goblin men is exposed by the redemptive sisterly love that Lizzie exhibits for her sister.

The potential toxicity of masculine is also explored in Webster’s “A Castaway”. Webster also presents us with two visions of masculinity; the men who have cast aside Eulalie and her clients. She asserts that she “hate[s] men” (Webster, 271) when expressing her need for a female redeemer rather than a male. She has fallen victim to a society that only affords men the privilege of education, adventure, and autonomy. As a result of being punished for not abiding by the rules of her preassigned role she has become resentful of the males whom the system directly benefits. She speaks of her brother who was given all the chances she lacked and from whom she has since become estranged. Unlike her brother she has been offered limited ways by which to ensure her survival, many of which are not guaranteed and force her to relinquish her autonomy (Webster, 264-269), whilst men who are more immoral than her are revered (Webster, 86-103).

Augusta Webster

Eulalie in “A Castaway” problematizes the othering of the fallen woman or prostitute in Victorian society. Unlike the sisterhood of the “Goblin Market”, the wives and other, reputable women stand in judgement of Eulalie treating her as a completely different creature from themselves (Sutphin, 520). She regards their disapproval and condemnation with disdain (Webster, 137-140), and thus this mutual resentment sets up a combative and vicious relationship between women as they scramble to make their way in a world where they are all subservient to men in some way. The othering of Eulalie is particularly difficult as she does not conform to the general image of the prostitute of the time; she is from a good family, she dresses well and does not make a spectacle of herself as other, less privileged and refined women do (Sutphin, 527). She is more like them than the society women and men would like to admit, and if they acknowledged this they would not be able to treat her as they do. The reader however is being forced into acknowledging her problematic status and as a result, Eulalie becomes a sympathetic and confronting figure of Victorian womanhood (Sutphin, 527).

Unlike the men in Eulalie’s story the men of Middlemarch are more nuanced in their good nature and villainy. Many powerful men in the text lose their power through their own machinations. The pious Mr. Casaubon wreaks havoc on his wife Dorethea from beyond the grave, judging her without cause. He not only implies Dorethea has feelings for Will, but his accusation sets in motion the events that he was trying to prevent in the first place (Eliot, 1141-1148). Similarly, Mr. Featherstone’s desire for power over his benefactors leads him to create two wills and then be deprived of the choice of which is executed by the principled Mary Garth who refuses to burn the most recent and vindictive will (Eliot,739-748). In this way the powerless servant girl Mary is suddenly put in a position of tremendous power despite the money and influence of the man who has been, until the final moments of his existence, dominant of her.

Young Fred’s form of weakness on the other hand is one of little thought and obligation. He is silly and frivolous as he has never had to be otherwise as a young man of means. The women around him and those who support him are left to deal with the fallout of his actions. Unlike the pride of Mr. Casaubon and Mr. Featherstone, whose devastation is wreaked when they are deceased, Fred is redeemable and it is through the hardship and forgiveness of Mary and her family that he begins to understand the impact his actions may have (Eliot, 581). The implication of the text seems to be that men of means who are not held accountable can be a destructive force that reverberates throughout their community, whereas a man who is held accountable, whether by others or his own morality and strength of character can be a force for good or at the least benignity. 

George Eliot

Women are ultimately reliant on men for survival in Middlemarch but the form their dependent relationship takes varies. Dorethea, Rosamond and Celia are aware of the need for them to marry well in order to be respectable prosperous women. Their beauty and refinement are emphasized as they are the key assets in ensuring they can maintain their luxurious lifestyle (Waddle 19). However, the “dreadful plain” Mary Garth (Eliot, 240) defies this convention, choosing, of her own volition instead to marry Fred who is not the best match available to her (Waddle 22). Dorethea in her marriage is entirely subservient to Mr. Casaubon and Rosamond is completely infantilized, whereas Mary and Fred have a much more equal dynamic as demonstrated by her ability to admonish him without fear and their mutual respect for one another (Waddle, 21). The only power available to many of the women in Middlemarch is wielded through influencing their husbands. The women, often have limited impact outside the domestic sphere and as a result are often confined to it. It is the men of Middlemarch who are the ones who are held in high esteem for their works and are able to avoid obligation should they choose. The contribution of women is less valued and they are heavily restricted by social constructs and domestic obligation.

These texts highlight the degree to which women are often utterly without independent power in Victorian society. Whether she is a woman of means or poor she is able to escape the limitations faced by her within society. Unlike men she has limited established protections and is often unable to defend herself against injustice. However, she is demonstrated as being in every part the equal of a man within her character and if banded together in sisterhood with other women may overcome men that wish to enslave her. She has the potential to save, condemn, manipulate and do great good on the occasion that she is afforded the opportunity. The downfall of the woman is her lack of power within social structures designed to further the ambitions of men and protect them from their own weakness. The men of these texts are diverse but all share reasonable access to power and autonomy. The entirety of the male gender is not painted as monstrous, rather these texts show examples that prove the male gender to be just as corruptible, redeemable, well-meaning and fallible as the female. 

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Casey, Janet Galligani. “The Potential of Sisterhood: Christina Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market.’” Victorian Poetry, vol. 29, no. 1, 1991, pp. 63–78. JSTOR, JSTOR,

Eliot, G. (2015). Middlemarch. 2nd ed. [ebook] Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Available at: [Accessed 1 Sep. 2017].

Rossetti, Christina. “The Goblin Market” Course Reader, 2017, ENGX314 iLearn site.  

Sutphin, Christine. “Human Tigresses, Fractious Angels, and Nursery Saints: Augusta Webster’s ‘A Castaway’ and Victorian Discourses on Prostitution and Women’s Sexuality.” Victorian Poetry, vol. 38, no. 4, 2000, pp. 511–532. JSTOR, JSTOR,

Waddle, Keith A. “Mary Garth, The Wollstonecraftian Feminist of ‘Middlemarch.’ “George Eliot – George Henry Lewes Studies, no. 28/29, 1995, pp. 16–29.JSTOR, JSTOR, 

Webster, Augusta. “A Castaway” Course Reader, 2017, ENGX314 iLearn site.

How do women writers in the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries use the essay form to interrogate the implications of progress for gender roles? By Morgan Mushroom 

Women in the late eighteenth and nineteenth century began to utilize the persuasive power of the essay in order to put forward their ideas about what values and rights women should have. Whilst many women were beginning to write and philosophize outside of the domestic sphere, the persuasive writing of women gained an audience when utilizing topics relating to domesticity as a springboard for discussing broader subjects relating to gender and morality. This often means that discourse surrounding the role of women in society was approached as it relates to the notion of the ideal woman. This essay will attempt to analyze “The Milliners” (Jameson, 1843) and “The Girl of the Period” (Linton, 1862) as these essays were written by women of the nineteenth century and allow their authors to advocate for a particular role and ideal woman of their time. To a lesser extent this essay with also examine the impact of a particularly notable excerpt from Mary Wollstonecraft’s introduction to A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (Wollstonecraft, 1792) that also interacts with notions of fashion and what that means for evolving gender roles.
As the perennial face of women’s rights in the eighteenth century, Wollstonecraft advocated for the education and emancipation of women citing their enlightenment as key to their value and progress within society. In her introduction to A Vindication of the Rights of Woman she pointedly condemns the female obsession with silliness and fashion, an obsession which leads them to neglect the more noble pursuits that are considered inappropriate for their gender (Wollstonecraft, 18). Wollstonecraft’s disruption of these gender roles that keep women uneducated and subservient comes at the end of the eighteenth century setting a radical precedent for the criticism of the ideal woman that is inextricably linked to the value she places on fashion and the domestic.

Anna Brownell Jameson 

Increased literacy amongst both men and women of all classes and the cheap manufacturing of texts during this period (Wilson, 58) meant that the reading audience grew dramatically and diversified. This new diverse audience left room for more diverse writing perspectives, leaving the door open to female authors particularly in the publication of periodicals (Wilson, 59). This new space for female authorship gave those who had limited scope for the proliferation of ideas a platform by which to advocate for their viewpoint in essay form. A common preoccupation of the persuasive essay as written by a woman of the 1800s is the criticism of the impact of progress on women and the role of the woman within society. Linton and Jameson both address perceived crises facing young women and girls of their time but in vastly different ways. Whilst Jameson addresses the plight of exploited factory girls, Linton bemoans the loss of the domesticated, homebound, British girl. Both texts also condemn the contemporary obsession with fashionable excess and what the female preoccupation with fashion means for the morality of society as a whole.
Jameson’s essay, “The Milliners”, paints a picture of the modern working-class girl being all but drowned by the wave of progress as her youth, gender and lower social standing leave her vulnerable to exploitation in the manufacturing of luxury garments and fashionable accessories. Jameson compares the experience of the fashionable society ladies who wear the garments and the malnourished, exhausted and sickly girls who produce them, pointing out that they are “fantastically and horribly coupled” (Jameson, 1). This clear condemnation of excess at the cost of another is not only condemning the society that lets these factory girls be treated so poorly, but it is also calling upon society women to forgo some of their excesses in order to advocate for better working conditions. Jameson also posits an alternative to the oppressive millinery workhouses, highlighting more ethical conduct of a particular manufacturer. The female manager, in this case, has shown not only a capacity for creative and competitive business strategy but morality to treat her workers with a degree of respect not afforded to girls in other factories. Jameson is putting forward the ideal of rights for female workers as well as more socially conscious women of means. In doing this she is carving out a role for women in society as both a valued worker and a socially responsible critical thinker. In this way, some of Jameson’s discourse in her essay is a slightly altered echo of Wollstonecraft in the way that she views fashion as being an obstacle to women achieving freedom, knowledge or morality.

Eliza Lynn Linton

Linton, in sharp contrast to Wollstonecraft in particular, refers to fashion as being, not the obstacle to enlightenment and emancipation, but a symptom of greed and selfishness that draws women away from the traditional domestic sphere. Linton is very clear about her expectations of gender roles, looking to the normative family dynamics of the past in which the wife is subservient and only exists to nurture both her husband and children (Linton, 3-4). She insists that a fashionable or independent woman lacks maternal instinct only offering her children a “stepmother’s coldness” (Linton, 3). The essay argues that the modern is woman useless in the domestic sphere meaning that she is not fulfilling her gender role within society to the detriment of both men and women. The fear of the woman in her role as an empowered individual rather than as a demure and subservient homebody drives much of both the criticism of fashion and the cultural isolationist viewpoint in “The Girl of The Period”. The condemnation of fashionable dress and less conventionally privileged British modes of dress (Linton, 3) provides an opening to heated and impassioned discourse regarding the decaying morality of “the girl of the period” (Linton, 1).
Whilst Linton’s arguments for the regression of women’s role within nineteenth century to a state of domestication and servitude are anti-feminist and actively condemn the emancipation of her gender (Fix Anderson, 134) she employs similar condemnation of the frivolous excesses of the fashion of the time as Jameson’s uses in her opening and closing arguments. Jameson is chiefly concerned with ending the terrible conditions of working-class women, however, Linton’s concerns borne of preserving traditional gender roles that are gradually becoming obsolete as women move gradually outside the domestic sphere. In this way, the luxurious indulgences of privileged women are highlighted by both writers as socially irresponsible and contrary to the best interests of their gender and its role in an increasingly industrialized and modern society.
Many movements that sought to redefine the role of women in a world that was changing rapidly due to the explosion of industry were intrinsically tied to an ideal form of dress. As Linton calls for more conservative dress and Jameson calls for more socially responsible, less excessive means of dressing, so too did other female writers of the time push forward their agenda by using the fashion and dress of women. Elizabeth Smith Miller, a proponent of the dress reform movement pushed forth the idea that more practical dress was a means of empowering women and allowing them to abandon the restrictive clothing, such as corsets and long sweeping gowns that caused extensive health problems and limited the activity of the women wearing them (Kesselman, 495). As a means of opening a dialogue about the role of women in society the critique of women’s fashion not only opens the door to discourse regarding the moral values exhibited by the chosen dress of women but also serves as a means to advocate for the rights of women and a changing role for women in a progressive society. Linton, Wollstonecraft and Jameson use the form of the persuasive essay to push forth their reasons for less ornate and fashion dependent modes of dress, but their criticism of this style of dress is used as a vehicle to push back against the role that a changing society has pushed women into.
In the face of the changing social and industrial landscape of the eighteenth and nineteenth century were being called upon to fill traditional domestic roles whilst the practicalities of their modern lives require a flexibility of gender roles. Women’s role as subservient and homebound is being questioned by many writers, whilst others push back against the new freedoms being afforded the modern woman. Despite the differing agendas of the female writers examined (Wollstonecraft, Jameson and Linton) they all utilize, to varying degrees, a critique of what is proclaimed to be the female obsession with appearance and attire. As an aspect of women’s essay writing in the eighteenth and nineteenth century the preoccupation with fashion and its implications for the rights and morality of women should not be underestimated as it is often a powerful mode of discourse employed by a diverse range of prominent writers, to great persuasive effect.

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• Anderson, Nancy Fix. “Eliza Lynn Linton, Dickens, and the Woman Question.” Victorian Periodicals Review, vol. 22, no. 4, 1989, pp. 134–141. JSTOR, JSTOR,
• Jameson, Anna. “The Milliners” The Athenauem (1843) in Criminals, Idiots, Women and Minors: Victorian Writing by Women on Women. Ed. Susan Hamilton. Toronto: Broadview Press, 2004. Print.
• Kesselman, Amy. “The ‘Freedom Suit’: Feminism and Dress Reform in the United States, 1848-1875.” Gender and Society, vol. 5, no. 4, 1991, pp. 495–510. JSTOR, JSTOR,
• Linton, Eliza Lynn. “The Girl of the Period.” Saturday Review 14 March 1868. Rpt. in Criminals, Idiots, Women and Minors: Victorian Writing by Women on Women. Ed. Susan Hamilton. Toronto: Broadview Press, 2004. Print.
• Wilson, Cheryl A. “Placing the Margins: Literary Reviews, Pedagogical Practices, and the Canon of Victorian Women’s Writing.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, vol. 28, no. 1, 2009, pp. 57–74. JSTOR, JSTOR,
• Wollstonecraft, Mary. Vindication Of The Rights Of Woman. [Auckland, N.Z.]: Floating Press, 2010. Print.

Female Desire in Donne and Shakespeare

Failed due to lateness. Poo. It’s not a wonderous essay by any stretch, but I said I would publish everything I could from my uni course…

So I present my take on female desire in Renaissance Poetry, such as it is…. warts and all….

How do Donne and Shakespeare differ in their representations of female desire, if at all? You should mention two poems by each poet (ie four sonnets in total).

Renaissance poetry and female desire have a troubled relationship which is unsurprising due to the overwhelmingly male proponents of the craft during this period. John Donne and William Shakespeare are two such poets who through their writings demonstrate a preoccupation with masculine notions of desire, but both of whom have a much less immersive approach to exploring female desire. Shakespearean sonnets appear to be much more deeply rooted in a realistic idea of female desire, until it is contrasted with the fantastical nature of masculine love in the earlier sonnets, creating a stark contrast between the treatment of genders in his works. Donne’s treatment of female desire is more sublime, but is more a matter of conquest than appreciation. If Shakespeare’s depiction of female desire is negative, or at the very least apathetic, Donne’s depiction is one of entitlement; female desire and females in general are there to be seduced or attained. 

Donne’s urge to conquer female desire and wrangle it to his will has the effect of not only giving his poetry a tinge of bitter disdain but also objectifies the women he desires (DiPasquale, 2012). He often denies his female characters agency and this denial of female agency in the poetry is also the result of placing the male as the protagonist. Donne casts himself or his narrator as the hero of the piece, therefore any parties acting contrary to his will are antagonists, but the woman who reciprocates his advances is evidence of his successes. When the female exercises her agency by rejecting the narrator she is deemed unworthy and potentially irreparable, to the point were he would not change her fate if he could; “I’had rather thou shouldst painfully repent, Than by my threat’nings rest still innocent.” (Donne, The Apparition, 47)

Donne’s apparent misogyny in the eyes of modern audiences is somewhat redeemed by the pains he takes to convey the woman as human, while he does objectify he does not treat them as subhuman as Shakespeare does. While it’s true that Donne’s narrator often considers women as lesser than men, he does at least credit them with a level of autonomy and a distinct voice (Coren, 2001) in certain poems such as Elegy 16 (Donne, 111) in which his lover concocts her own plan, in a show of a level of agency that Shakespeare’s “Dark Lady” fails to achieve.

Shakespeare carries out his own brand of objectification, whilst he does not deny his ‘Dark Lady’ agency, he breaks down the woman into a collection of physical attributes, she is not praised or beheld as a whole but is broken down into the required parts to create the appropriate figure of a Renaissance woman (Shakespeare, Sonnet 30). The Shakespearean woman is a domestic earthly creature, desirable but always less so than man. In his sonnets men are capable of more than women, in fact they are even better at being a woman than women;

A woman’s face with nature’s own hand painted,

Hast thou, the master mistress of my passion;

A woman’s gentle heart, but not acquainted

– (Shakespeare Sonnet 20).

The love triangle implied in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 144 is potentially the reason for his disdain of women and his unsympathetic depiction of female desire (Burnham, 1990). Female desire and heterosexual love appears to lead to the devastation of the narrators desire, leading to the dichotomy of men as divine and women as evil; “The better angel is a man right fair, The worser spirit a woman coloured ill.” (Shakespeare, Sonnet 144)

Both Donne and Shakespeare depict female desire as fickle and cruel, bemoaning it’s inconstancy and injustice. In The Apparition (Donne, 47) Donne, by denying the man his love the woman is considered a murderer; “When by thy scorn, O murd’ress, I am dead” (Donne, The Apparition, 47). Her rejection is seen as malicious and spiteful, rather than an exercise of free will. The scorned narrator Wails and gnashes his teeth as he talks of her cruelty and how he will exact his posthumous revenge. If female desire is fickle then it is necessarily toxic to the woman and the man involved. She is corrupted in The Apparition (Donne, 47), by her own inconstancy  and suffers both physically and psychologically as a result. When the female desire is not directed unwaveringly at the Donne narrator he considers it deceptive and cruel, positioning himself as the primary and rightful focal point of female desire. 

Shakespeare shows the inconstancy and fickleness of female desire in Sonnet 20, where Shakespeare beholds his androgynous love he shows, through the reaction of others the nature of gendered desire;

“Which steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth.” (Shakespeare, sonnet 20) 

In this passage men merely turn their heads at the appearance of the man who looks like a woman, whereas women are deeply effected by the masquerade, perhaps jealous of the success and beauty of the illusion. This passage indicates not only the narrator’s worship of the man in the story but the extent to which women are more easily effected by shallow stimuli such as changed appearance.

Shakespeare’s dim view to female desire is perhaps best explained within the context of the masculine power hegemony of the time, to praise a man is natural, to praise a woman in such terms is scandalous (Matz, 2010). There is an inappropriateness in addressing the desire of women, whereas the exploration of male desire is less corrupting. Donne courts societal outrage by blatantly praising in detail the form of a woman and exploring her role in the passions of man (Coren, 2012) in a way that Shakespeare fails to do. If some of his more lavish praise was directed at a woman Shakespeare would run the risk of encountering the same level of outrage as Donne experienced.

Shakespeare tends to position himself somewhat differently; as in competition with and inherently suspicious of female desire. He does not flatter females as Donne does, they are not on pedestals, however the way their desire manifests appears to be inherently deceptive or malignant in their effects in the Shakespearean narrator’s own intimate sphere.

The nature of desire and its ability to change perceptions of reality is addressed by both poets, and whether the way that desire manifests this change is a deceptive or creative force is heavily gendered. The world building that occurs between two lovers is a reoccurring motif for Donne and Shakespeare, with the enamoured subjects carving out a metaphorical space for themselves and their mutual desire to inhabit. In Shakespeare this manifests as  room, Donne however carves out an extended world and alternate space for his lovers to safely inhabit. These visions of a safe place for desire to flourish a conjured up by masculine desire is explored by both poets but the context of this gendered creation of intimate space differ.

Donne uses masculine and feminine desire as a building block for an alternate reality, a world in which the two parties can exist without condemnation and fear, and indulge in their lust and desires. This somewhat insular attitude to desire puts the couple engaged in such world building at odds with the reality of the greater society. By contrast Shakespeare’s desire involving women is firmly rooted within social realities; he is keenly aware  and alludes to the reality of the human condition and lays bare the deception at work in the world view of those bewitched by desire towards women (Shakespeare, sonnet 130). Shakespeare does however explore world building in his depiction of homo masculine desire and the conditions which could allow this love to flourish without the need for pretence. 

There is a certain amount of antipathy towards desire of women in both poets bodies of work. Shakespeare in particular does not dwell on the emotions and desires of women, with the key allusions to the inner workings of the female being those of deception and ill-nature.  He paints a picture in his sonnets of female desire as a corrupting force which lays waste to true and pure love;

“Wooing his purity with her foul pride” (Shakespeare, Sonnet 144)

This corrupting force manifests in Sonnet 138 as deception, whether this deception is knowing or unknowing; “ I do believe her though I know she lies,” (Shakespeare, Sonnet 138) Here the Shakespearean narrator is convinced of knowing deception, but it is also possible that the lady so overwhelmed with the experience and emotions of love and desire that she believes what she says. However this lack for world building potential in the female desire is not true of the sonnets that deal with homoeroticism (Shakespeare, sonnet 112). Masculine homosexual desire is not as deeply rooted in the deceptive workings of everyday social constructs, enabling the world building such as the desire to which Donne’s poems alludes. Shakespeare heterosexual explorations of female desire are firmly placed within the domestic, whereas masculine desire has the potential to inhabit the sublime. The woman in Shakespeare’s sonnets is firmly positioned in the earthly sphere, she “treads upon the ground”, he is almost pragmatic in his description of her (Shakespeare, Sonnet 130) unlike his male love interest who is held in company off gods. Donne’s women, providing they are supplicant, are divine and desirable. 

The inherently masculine power hegemony in Elizabethan and Renaissance England meant that women were given limited power to exercise their will, particularly within the romantic sphere. Female desire, when it falls contrary to the will of the narrator of Donne’s poems is deeply problematic and prompts  a furious and irrational response. The Apparition (Donne, 47) shows a man struggling to regain power over a woman who by rejecting his advances is not under his power. 

Donne’s irrational female desire as exemplified in Elegy 16, (Donne, 111); “Which my words’ masculine persuasive force” (Donne, Elegy 16, 111) when he beseeches his love not to do anything foolish, he points out the folly of her potential plan. He even likens her ability to disguise herself as that of an ape. Desire has almost rendered her insensible, and it is up to the Donne narrator, the self proclaimed hero and rational mind of the piece to prevail upon her to behave in an appropriate manner to prevent dire consequences for them both.

By contrast Shakespeare is less enraged than despairing when the power balance is tipped in favour of female desire. When the lady of the final sonnets is triumphant in her desire it ultimately means that Shakespeare’s own desire is unattainable. Female desire in Shakespeare sonnets is primarily an obstacle to the happiness of the narrator preventing him from attaining his desires and destroying the world of mutual masculine desire he has constructed with his love.

Female desire is often problematic for the poets as it does not often line up exactly with their own agendas. Whether this problematic desire tales the form of direct rejection or competition it does not tend to yield sufficiently to create contentment and a satisfactory resolution for the poets, this leaves the ultimate mark of female desire as being one denoting frustration and disappointment. The masculine and feminine desires are set up in opposition to one another, but the feminine desire often is seen as being the antagonistic force that refuses to bend to the superiority or sensibility of masculine desire.

In their depictions of intimacy and relationships Donne and Shakespeare struggle to convey anything other than a male-centric view of desire, however their approaches that lead them to this outcome differ considerably. Shakespeare dissociates female desire from the divine nature of masculine desire, whilst Donne renders female desire sublime by association with the right man, that is the narrator. Shakespeare and Donne agree on the potential cruelty and inconstancy of female desire, meaning that women whose desire does not line up with the poets’ are ultimately problematic and destructive.

Burnham, Michelle. “Dark Lady and Fair Man”: The Love Triangle in Shakespeare’s Sonnets and” Ulysses.” Studies in the Novel 22.1 (1990): 43-56.

Coren, Pamela. “In the person of womankind: Female persona poems by Campion, Donne, Jonson.” Studies in Philology 98.2 (2001): 225-250.

DiPasquale, Theresa M. “Donne, women, and the spectre of misogyny.” (2011).

Donne, John. The Poems Of John Donne [2 Vols.] Volume I & Volume II. 1st ed. Project Gutenberg, 2015., Web. 27 Oct. 2016.

Matz, Robert. “The Scandals of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.” Elh 77.2 (2010): 477-508.

Shakespeare, William. Shakespeare’s Sonnets. 1st ed. Project Gutenberg, 2014., Web. 28 Oct. 2016.

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Photo courtesy  of Brice Stratford on Wiki commons. 

UnAustralian Studies – Othered subjects and the media

​As always with writing about a culture that I did not grow up immersed in I may be misinformed about some of the cultural elements in this essay. I have aimed to research as best I could with the resources available to me with my looming deadlines. I am always open to corrections and notices of omission so just leave a comment if you have a deeper insight into these things than I do… It wouldn’t be hard.


♡ Morgan

Map of the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail. Cartography by Steve Bennett, map data by OpenStreetMap contributors.

How does the Australian state exclude ‘othered’ subjects from the official body of the nation?

The article that this essay will attempt to examine through the lens of the exclusion of ‘othered’ subjects from the Australian state concerns the recent spotlight on the contested Registered party status of the Yorta Yorta people of Warby Ovens National Park near Wangaratta Victoria. The Pangerang or Bangerang people are of a firm belief that they have the right to registered party status in this area and their representative in this article is elder Freddie Dowling who is voice the community’s disappointment and anger in reaction to the signs erected by Parks Victoria, claiming the site to be Yorta Yorta land. This article shows a distinct lack of understanding of the registered party process and displays problematic disconnects between the understanding of traditional custodianship and the formal government  measures in place for indigenous recognition.

The significance of the contested land is manifold but the key point of significance is a ceremonial and burial location located in the ranges and held by the Pangerang people as being of immense spiritual, cultural and historical value. The Yorta Yorta people do not appear to be contesting its significance to the people they refer to as the Bangerang, but rather have petitioned to represent them as part of their incorporated body, but as of this date this arrangement is not agreeable to the Pangerang people. The main issue at the heart of this is that in order to achieve recognition as a Registered Party for an area it is almost a necessity to have the backing of an incorporated body and legal expertise, meaning that smaller groups are unable to achieve the recognition of their historical entitlements without learning to work within a system of bureaucracy, a system that is borne out of the same government construct that robbed them of that entitlement in the first place. 

This article, in an effort to sensationalise the story by creating a sense of conflict between tangible people rather than people against an abstract concept such as a system has the effect of pitting people against people instead of holding the system to account:

“A FIGHT is heating up between the Pangerang and Yorta Yorta Aboriginal people over who are the rightful traditional owners of the Warby Ovens National Park.” (Morgan, 2013)

This statement puts the blame squarely at the feet of the Yorta Yorta people rather than questioning how a system of recognition could be so out of touch with indigenous concerns that it could allow this to happen.

Perhaps one of the most telling passages in the article is this: “Pangerang elder, Sandy Atkinson, said he contacted Aboriginal Affairs Minister, Jeanette Powell, last week to request a meeting so she would explain why Yorta Yorta has status as a Registered Aboriginal Party” (Morgan, 2013) in which an Aboriginal elder is having to ask why his people’s heritage is not recognised. This act by Sandy Atkinson of circumventing the mediation process with  the Yorta Yorta and going to the decision makers in the process is yet another indicator that the problem lies with the broken Registered Party system rather than  disagreements between Aboriginal groups. The argument for a policy of self determination of territory recognition is not raised in this, or any other article on the matter, despite the fact that self determination could go some way to unpicking some of the problems that the misguided Registered Party system has created (Huggins, 1998). The balance of power lies with those able to work within the government system and depicting the conflict as internal, when it is the imposition of laws by the state which has created the problem of incorrect recognition. This  creates an absence of cultural continuity, resulting in a living culture being treated as a dead culture or a culture existing purely in the past, thus robbing the issue of its immediacy and urgency. This problematic idea of indigenous identity as merely a matter of history undermines the genuine ties the Aboriginal people have to their traditional and cultural lands (Anderson, 1993). This dampening of the issue in the media and the public allows for the government to continue the oversimplification of  traditional indigenous custodianship, settling for systems of recognition that seem to be addressing the issue of Aboriginal land claims and rights without adequately reflecting the reality of those claims and rights or affording any power to the Aboriginal people themselves.

The claims to geographic and cartographic recognition is particularly important as it is one of the few avenues for recognition Aboriginal groups can access. Since colonization the culture and history of these communities has been systematically erased barring contemporary attempts to preserve a tiny fragment of what has been lost in the process of colonisation. The desire of the colonial powers and later the federated state powers to organise the vast landmass of Australia into a nation without a treaty or understanding of the original inhabitants meant that Aboriginal people have only a negligible voice in determining issues of legislation and law in determining place names, or preserving indigenous heritage. The impact of this is immeasurable, and the Pangerang people’s claim may come down to a map made in the 1860s (Douthie, 2016). 

This misnaming of important spaces is “symptomatic of forced colonization” (Anderson,1993) and is perpetuated by lost information and an unwillingness to change misinformation, which only serves as a continuation of power imbalance in Australia. This lack of emphasis on the correct recognition of pre-existing cultural and territorial history is a reflection of the racially biased way that legislative law works. Australia as a nation state is a potent symbolic force which carries with it ideas of stability and a kind of immovable structure that is resistant to change, particularly regarding issues surrounding reconciliation and power imbalances (Bhaba, 1991).


Anderson, Ian 1993, “Reclaiming Tru-ger-nan-ner: De-colonising the symbol” in Art Matters Monthly

Bhabha, H.K. 1991, “Introduction: Narrating the Nation” in Nation and Narration

Douthie, S. (2016). All in the name of the Pangerang tribe. Wangaratta Chronicle. Retrieved 22 June 2016, from

Dowling, F. (2016). Pangerang Country with Freddie Dowling – Culture Victoria.Culture Victoria. Retrieved 22 June 2016, from

Huggins, Jackie, 1998, “Auntie Rita’s File”, in Sister Girl: The Writings of Aboriginal Activist and Historian (St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press), 131-134.

Martin, E. (2016). Department of Premier and Cabinet – Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006. Retrieved 22 June 2016, from

Morgan, S. (2013). Fight for our land. Wangaratta Chronicle. Retrieved 22 June 2016, from

The Shepparton Adviser – No recognition for traditional land owners. (2016). Retrieved 22 June 2016, from

Yorta Yorta blow-ins, says elder. (2011). The Border Mail. Retrieved 22 June 2016, from
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COD125 Paulo Freire’s ideas are not relevant to community work in ‘western’ settings!’ Discuss.

Paulo Freire as a Brazilian philosopher drew inspiration heavily from the social structures and influences that surrounded him, but this does limit the relevance and usefulness of his ideas to education and community work in Brazil. To assert that “Paulo Freire’s ideas are not relevant to community work in ‘western settings’” is to assume a great many things about ‘western settings’ and the relevance that the cultural origins of a theory have on its global relevance. The four key conditions that could make this critique accurate are that:

  1. That the concept of western settings or western society does not overlap and intertwine with eastern influences, society and settings
  2. That the Brazilian culture Freire’s ideas were borne out of has nothing in common with the culture and social structures of ‘Western settings’
  3. That students from different backgrounds in western settings are not linguistically disadvantaged
  4. That there is no oppression in western society

In this essay I will attempt to explain why all four assertions are incorrect and demonstrate the extent to which Freire’s ideas have influenced education and community development in ‘western settings’.

Firstly it is important to define what is meant by the term ‘western settings’. As this assertion is made from a community development perspective and Freire was primarily concerned with pedagogy of education and how knowledge relates to liberation and freedom, so it is fair to assume that the ‘settings’ referred to in this statement are of an educational, social and community development nature;

“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” (Freire 2000)

These settings can encompass a wide range of programs; from formal school systems and curriculums to support work and community interactions at a grass roots, or every day, informal, level. The emphasis on praxis in Freire’s work supports this assertion by reinforcing the notion that learning is not merely achieve through scholarly or academic theorizing;

“Liberation is a praxis: the action and reflection of men and women upon their world in order to transform it.”(Freire 2000)

The word ‘western’ as part of this statement can be taken in its cultural context as defined by the Oxford Press 2014; “Relating to or characteristic of the West or its inhabitants”, inhabitant of the West being defined as “Living in or originating from the West, in particular Europe or the United States”. (Oxford University Press, 2014). But are such terms as ‘western’ and ‘eastern’ helpful when discussing Freire? I would argue that the practice of dividing an increasingly globalised society into western and eastern social spheres is to create a false dichotomy, with the two spheres of society intertwining inextricably due to migration and globalized means of communication such as the internet. With this integration of eastern cultures into traditionally western societies (and vice versa) the notion of educational and community development settings having a singularly western orientation is becoming increasingly irrelevant. This increased irrelevance is best summarized by Martin Buber;

“The real struggle is not between East and West, or capitalism and communism, but between education and propaganda.” (Hodes 1972)

Whether the eastern influences in this setting are contributed by the ‘teacher’ or by the ‘pupil’, or even in the greater community, the importance and influence of these differing perspectives and cultural backgrounds when opening an educational and developmental dialogue should not be underestimated.

“One cannot expect positive results from an educational or political action program which fails to respect the particular view of the world held by the people. Such a program constitutes cultural invasion, good intentions notwithstanding.” (Freire 2000)

Paulo Freire’s Brazilian heritage could be considered to be vastly different from the typical heritage of a western educator or student, the reliance on dialogue rather than the educator broadcasting their knowledge to students in a one way stream of ideas and information theoretically renders these cultural and historical differences irrelevant when considering the value of Freire’s ideas. The key assumption that Freire makes about any given community is that each community will have their own priorities, valued knowledge and cultural backgrounds. It is from these community priorities that an educator can make knowledge relevant to the communities they work within. The first step in Freire’s educational strategy is listen to the community,  taking the lead from the community negates the notion of Freire’s theory being solely useful in an eastern setting as the educator is required to adapt their approach  to fit the ‘setting’ and community. Active listening is critical to Freire’s arguments and his theory of education takes its cues from the students, the notion of co-learning;

“The teacher is of course an artist, but being an artist does not mean that he or she can make the profile, can shape the students. What the educator does in teaching is to make it possible for the students to become themselves.” (Freire 1990)

To assert that Freire’s ideas are not applicable to a Western setting is to greatly underestimate the language barriers that exist in Western society. Most modern globalised societies are comprised of a vast variety of cultures and languages, in fact in London, U.K. alone 1.7 million inhabitants do not class English as their first language and 300,000 people do not claim to speak English at all (The Office Of National Statistics, 2013). In this time of multiculturalism and multiethnic societies to claim that students in western settings do not face the similar language barriers to their eastern counterparts is to take a very narrow view of what western society is, and to deny the struggles of a significant portion of the western population who do not have the “official language”, or commonly spoken dialect as their first language. This struggle it particularly poignant when the first language of a student indigenous to the land they inhabit has been supplanted by the process of colonisation, some examples from both western and eastern societies include;

  1. Indigenous Australian dialect speakers and the Australian English Language
  2. Gaelic Irish speakers and the U.K. English language
  3. Amerindian dialect speakers and the Brazilian Portuguese language

It is also important to take into account the differing language elements of class, for example someone from a lower socioeconomic background may not be familiar with the same terms as someone from a high socioeconomic groups, and vice versa. These differing dialects and linguistic nuances can occur within a single language causing a division in access to knowledge. Whether the language barriers exist through officially recognised language differences or through cultural or subcultural division it is the assertion of Freire that without the educator being able to overcome these barriers in communication with their students they will be unable to help students to learn, and without education, learning and knowledge the students will be unable to achieve awareness and liberation. Simply put Freire links language to the relevance of learning, and relevance to the desire to act. In this way it is easy to see how the theories of Freire and those who draw inspiration from his teachings can have a profound impact on the operation and effectiveness of learning environments.

The final factor that negates the assertion that Freire has no relevance to western community development is the parallel between the roles of oppressor and oppressed in both western and eastern cultures. Freire poses this power structure of the oppressor; the people who have, possess and are privileged in society, and the oppressed; who have very little and are essentially there to work to maintain the comfortable position of the oppressors. This theory of social inequality has its roots in Marxist conflict theory, which advocates the struggle of the working class to achieve fulfilment and freedom. While the Marxist perspective of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat omit such notions as love and the complexity of modern capitalist structures, Freire is able to offer a more tempered and current approach to conflict theory, but the idea of class struggle is still very familiar. These themes of oppression are often represented in western settings in the form of;

  • Socioeconomic Divisions – The poor or uneducated being oppressed by the rich. Those from lower socioeconomic groups being put under so much pressure to survive that they are unable to focus on the possibility of bettering their situation, or the situation of their community, “…the oppressed, as objects, as “things”, have no purposes except those their oppressors prescribe for them.” (Freire 2000)
  • Racism and Cultural Divisions – The marginalisation of people based on ethnicity, culture, religion or nationality that is done through both overt discrimination and inequality but sometimes take the more subtle form of biased folklore, education and social constructs that only takes into account one, or a few limited perspectives, denying other cultures legitimacy, “Dehumanization, although a concrete historical fact, is not a given destiny but the result of an unjust order that engenders violence in the oppressors, which in turn dehumanizes the oppressed” (Freire 2000)
  • Young people as socially deviant – The orientation of social structures to benefit the established older generations and elite, dismissing youth and youth culture as illegitimate, “Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” (Freire 2000)

One of the key western theorists who draw inspiration from the works of Freire is Henry Giroux and his ideas surrounding education and the ‘war on youth’. “He [Giroux] and Freire coedited a very influential series on education and cultural politics for Bergin and Garvey. Giroux has made ground-breaking contributions to numerous fields, including education, critical theory, youth studies, cultural studies, media studies, higher education and public pedagogy.”(Peters 2012). This close academic relationship with Freire has afforded Giroux a deeper understanding of how to address the inequalities and inadequacies within the education and political systems in his Canadian homeland.

“Pedagogy for me was central to proclaiming the power and necessity of ideas, knowledge and culture as central to any viable definition of politics, and the goal of living in a just world with others.” (Giroux, Peters 2012)

At the heart of the teachings of Freire is are such global and intrinsically human experiences such as oppression, communication breakdowns and the need to continuously learn from others. These collective human experiences are apparent in most modern societies, especially those that exist in a postcolonial or globalised state, both in western and eastern communities throughout the world. In this way Freire and those who have built upon his ideas such as Giroux have the potential to empower, educate and liberate both the marginalised and privileged aspects of society regardless of their traditional orientation as eastern or western.


  • Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the oppressed. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2000.
  • Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of freedom: Ethics, democracy, and civic courage. Rowman & Littlefield, 1998.
  • Freire, Paulo, and Ana Maria Araújo Freire. EPZ pedagogy of hope: Reliving pedagogy of the oppressed. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2004.
  • Giroux, Henry A., Youth and the Politics of Disposability in Dark Times, lecture given at McMaster University, Canada, YouTube, McMaster Humanities, 2013.
  • Giroux, Henry A. “Paulo Freire and the politics of post colonialism.” Journal of Advanced Composition (1992): 15-26.
  • Horton, Miles and Freire, Paulo, We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change, Temple University Press, 1990.
  • Hodes, Aubrey, Encounter with Martin Buber, Allen Lane, p. 135, 1972.
  • Leonard, Peter, and Peter McLaren, eds. Paulo Freire: A critical encounter. Routledge, 2002.
  • McLaren, Peter. Che Guevara, Paulo Freire, and the pedagogy of revolution. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2000.
  • Morrow, Raymond Allen, and Carlos Alberto Torres. Reading Freire and Habermas: Critical pedagogy and transformative social change. Teachers College Press, 2002.
  • The Office for National Statistics, Language in England and Wales, 2011, the National Archives, United Kingdom, 2013.
  • Oxford English Dictionaries Online,, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.
  • Peters, Michael A. 2012. “HENRY GIROUX ON DEMOCRACY UNSETTLED: FROM CRITICAL PEDAGOGY TO THE WAR ON YOUTH.” Geopolitics, History and International Relations 4 (1): 156-174.

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