Gender Dynamics between Miss Halcombe and Mr. Hartright

The relationship between Miss Halcombe and Mr. Hartright is amicable from the beginning of their time together. Although Miss Halcombe expresses her feelings for Mr. Hartright, he is in love with her sister and so their relationship remains a friendly one and nothing more. However, their relationship is more complex than that, as Mr. Hartright relies on Miss Halcombe for support, particularly once she tells him that Miss Fairlie in engaged. Once she tells him that her sister is engaged, Mr. Hartright is devastated as her felt a, “dull numbing pain” (Collins 72). Both Mr. Hartright and Miss Halcombe, who can see the pain on his face, express that the pain has momentarily wiped Mr. Hartright of his masculinity. Miss Halcombe says, “Crush it […] don’t shrink under it like a woman. Tear it out: trample it under foot like a man” (Collins 73). Interestingly, Miss Halcombe challenges Mr. Hartright’s masculinity by insinuating that if he lets his pain persist, he will be feminine. This is interesting because Miss Halcombe, as a woman, is reinforcing gender stereotypes throughout the book thus far of feminine weakness, while acting as a strong, more stereo-typically masculine character. By telling Mr. Hartright that pain is feminine, she buys into and promotes the stereotypes of feminine weakness and masculine strength while simultaneously portraying a woman who does not uphold very feminine stereotypes. Miss Halcombe’s language violent demands of Mr. Hartright when she tells him to “crush” and “rip out” come with a connotation of destruction and violence, followed by the insistence that if he “crushes” his pain, he will be a man. Here, manliness is associated with violence and overpowering/ destroying weakness (pain). This adds to the concept of gender roles which runs throughout the book. It gives us insight into what the characters believe masculinity and femininity look like.  Mr. Hartright agrees with Miss Halcombe’s sentiment saying, We both waited for a minute, in silence. At the end of that time, I had justified her generous faith in my manhood” (73). Interestingly, Mr. Hartright almost admits to not being as masculine as Miss Halcombe gives him credit for because he describes her words to be “generous” implying that he may not believe them entirely himself. However, he did gather himself enough to “justify” her confidence in his masculinity. This exchange between these two characters both emphasizes and challenged gender stereotypes, adding to the complex dynamics of gender roles throughout the novel.

3 thoughts on “Gender Dynamics between Miss Halcombe and Mr. Hartright”

  1. I’d like to expand on these ideas of how Marian’s commentary on gender and behavior demonstrates Victorian ideas of gender roles as well as class distinctions. She often refers to feminine modes of behavior in a mocking manner. In her first meeting with Mr. Hartright, she jokes that Laura is suffering from “that essentially feminine malady, a slight headache” (35) and mentions after lunch that while Laura’s headache had gone away, she “has not sufficiently recovered her appetite to join us at lunch” (50). However, it is worth noting that Laura has the freedom to suffer. Servants, as Mr. Fairlie says, are “persons born without nerves” (46) and so women of the working class could not withdraw from society and work for half a day because of a headache. Feminine delicacy was a luxury of the upper class.

  2. Hello! I really like your analysis of gender roles in Collins’ novel. I think that Mariam’s character is very interesting because, as we discussed in class, it used to be viewed as a strong female character and the female audience during the Victorian era loved to read about her. However, from a modern perspective, I would not see her as a feminist character at all. She seems to find many stereotypically feminine attributes silly, no matter if they are executed by female or male characters. Now, we would probably speak about it as “internalized misogyny”. Although she claims to get along better with men (apart from Laura), she expects men to be manly, too and she does not accept any weakness that could have them appear more feminine.
    I would argue that Mariam, despite the Victorian perception of her character, is not a feminist icon at all.

  3. Hey!! I really enjoyed this post and the analysis that you have done regarding Ms. Halcombe and Mr. Hartright. Specifically, what I find most interesting and most revealing in your post is the fact that Ms. Halcombe is cast as a woman, however, she is described as having masculine features. As well, Halcombe uses her agency to question Hartrights’ femininity, meanwhile she is a woman herself…right? Thus, I wanted to open the idea that the entire relationship between Halcombe and Hartright may be extremely queercoded, and that the reason why she even has a sense of agency, quite frankly the only ‘female character’ who does, is because of Mr. Hartrights’ underlying infatuation with Halcombe as a masculine figure.

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