In this passage, Miss Du Prel and Temperly are having a discussion concerning the “duties” of women. Miss Du Prel believes that work should be evenly distributed. She doesn’t understand why all women must do the same work despite their different passions and mind sets. Temperly feels that all women should do the same work because it is what they are best suited for. He believes that women are meant to do the household duties because it is what “Nature” intended.
While this text has the ideals of the period in Temperly’s dialog, Miss Du Prel’s dialog attempts to queer gender roles. Miss Du Prel questions the gender roles assigned to women, diverging from the societal norms of the time. Miss Du Prel challenges the ideal that women are meant to do house work as opposed to reflecting on the intelligently stimulating.
Temperly draws a metaphor that women all want to be “Mary”s and not “Martha”s, meaning that women are neglecting their duties as woman to idly sit and think. Temperly is complaining that women are no longer doing their supposed duties around the house. Miss Du Prel views the issue in reverse. She believes that too many women are being confined to their household duties which is making them idle and no women can pursue over means of work.
Miss Du Prel tries to get Temperly to think of the situation from a woman’s perspective. By doing this, she is also blurring the lines of gender because she is asking a man to view himself in a woman’s position. She is trying to get Temperly to understand the plight of woman, that people who do not identify with them are being allowed to dictate what their rights are, and she wants him to understand that this is not fair. Temperly brings the conversation to Victorian ideals however by suggesting that women should trust men’s “able judgement” (Caird 78). Temperly also uses “nature” as then reason why women are subject to men.
By questioning her “female duties,” Miss Du Prel is allowing there to be a dialog discussing the queering of the Victorian gender binary. She is questioning the expectations placed on women and suggesting that they could do other work as well. Miss Du Prel is challenging the “norm” through her questioning of the accepted social gender roles.