What context is relevant when considering the theme of gender in 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles' By Thomas Hardy?

 Considering the novel was set and published in the late victorian era (1870's), we can consider an ideology of the time called 'seperate spheres' in reference to gender roles. Separate spheres is the ideology that suggested that men and women only came together at breakfast and dinner; like dawn and dusk, due to men being the sole workers in the family. Women were regarded as being part of the ‘domestic sphere’ as they were expected to oversee domestic duties. During this period women were regarded as morally superior, but physically weaker, therefore men (eg: Alec D’Urberville) had physical power over women. This may be an explanation as to why such moral strain was put upon women, whereas men got away with the same moral crimes (Angel).

We can also consider common practices and laws concerning marriage when looking at gender, as for women, marriage was regarded as a pursuit of motherhood rather than sexual/emotional satisfaction. Typically, husbands would be 5 years older than the wife, to reinforce hierarchy between men and women, and men could sleep with prostitutes before marriage, whereas women had to remain completely chaste; they were not even allowed to speak to men without supervision. Laws stated that prior to marriage, a woman legally belonged to her father, and then when married this ownership was passed on to the husband.  A husband therefore had control of all her property, earnings and person, this included their bodies and therefore husband had rights over what their bodies produced eg: sex, children, labour.

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