Nightingale and the Men

Essay by jeyy06College, Undergraduate April 2009

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In Florence Nightingale's Cassandra she presents a unique view of a "bored woman" in the 1800s. Her writing presents an ironic contrast to the male view of the time, which can be seen from Coventry Patmore's Angel in the House and Lord Alfred Tennyson's The Princess. These men believe that women find their purpose in keeping the household for their husbands, but Nightingale disagrees, believing the life of a housewife lacks any commitment or intellect.

The title of Patmore's work clearly displays his view of the woman's role. She is an angel in the house. She is not the angel of the laboratory, the angle of the workplace or the angel in the government. He appreciates his wife through this poem saying, "Yet it is now my chosen task To sing her worth as Maid and Wife" (1585). Yet Nightingale's view presents a striking contrast to Patmore's that women are angelic in the home.

She believes that women desire a life outside of the home. She says, "Women often long to enter some man's profession where they would find direction, competition (or rather opportunity of measuring the intellect with others) and, above all, time" (1599). She does not feel that women are meant to be angels living in and blessing the home with their presence. She instead feels that women are prisoners in their own homes; they are trapped from any stimulating human contact and any intellectual growth.

Nightingale goes on in her contrast of the male's view saying that women are prevented from intellectual growth, instead spending their time preparing for the 'dinner ceremony.' She says that if women were given free time to hold a pen or a brush it would surely be interrupted for meals or suckling their fools. She says, "Is a man's time more valuable than a woman's? or is the difference between a man and woman this, that the woman has confessedly nothing to do?" (1600). Tennyson, however, would never dream that a women would have nothing to do; actually, she has the range of her husband's interests to pursue. He thinks that a husband and wife should share the same interests so that they can grow together. If he reads the Times, then she can read it as well. This kind of bond will bring the husband and wife closer together. Starting on line 262 Tennyson says, "Not like to like, but like in difference. Yet in long years the liker they must grow; the man be more of a woman, she of a man." Although the wife may read the paper with her husband, does he feel that the husband should help to prepare dinner, mind the house or raise the children? This harmony would be fake in Nightingale's eyes because the women still has nothing of her own. The wife will still lack the happiness that comes with independence.

Unlike Nightingale, Tennyson thinks that only by growing closer and closer can a husband and wife achieve real marital happiness. On line 287 he says, "Purpose in purpose, will in will, they grow, the single pure and perfect animal, the two-celled heart beating, with one full strike, life." By becoming one, a husband and wife can achieve a perfect unity where both will be at their happiest. Of a perfect unity, his Princess says, "And again sighing she spoke, A dream That was once mine! What woman taught you this?" (1137). However, Nightingale thinks that men misinterpret the dreams of their wives. She mentions this twice on page 1601. She first says, "But any real communication between husband and wife - do we ever dream of such a thing?" (1601). She thinks that to a husband real communication means only that the women is defeated in her hopes of achieving independent goals or a life of meaning outside the house. She goes on to say that women dream and dream until time crushes those dreams out of them. Women are left hollow without any hope of meaningful achievement. Nightingale's view that women can find no real contentment or happiness if they are contained to the traditional role of a wife contrasts strongly with the male views that women find their happiness within the home by caring for and becoming one with their husband.

BibliographyNorton Anthology of English Literature, 8th Ed, Vol 2