Duplice schiavitù e signorile indigenza. La povertà delle donne nella letteratura vittoriana
In the patriarchal Victorian society, in cases of financial difficulties, subalternity and dependence –themselves causes of sufferings for women of all classes – aggravate and exasperate those very problems by becoming fetters which debar middle-class women from looking for real escape routes from poverty not implying loss of status outside the domestic and family sphere. At the same time, they turn the women of the humbler classes into “slaves of the slaves”, doomed to an existence in which utmost misery goes hand in hand with abuses of all kinds. Although with specific implications and differences, Victorian literature bears telling testimony regarding these phenomena and the relational and social dynamics underlying women’s destitution, but also regarding how this destitution is illustrated, and in some cases even justified, by the axiology of the time. Drawing on a selection of texts – both canonical and non canonical – able to convey the different ways in which middle- and working-class women dealt with poverty, this essay investigates the “representation” of women’s destitution in the context of the variegated socio-historical reality of the period and of the connections between the Woman Question and the Victorians’ strategies of construction and definition of models of femininity grounded in the theory of “separate spheres”.