As you know, females characters are abound with charms and peculiarities in Wilkie Collins’s novels. There are very ambitious, condescending and enigmatic beauties (e.g. Lydia Gwilt in Armadale), devoting and dignified little creatures (e.g. Anne Silvester in Man and Wife and Emily Brown in I Say No), self-effacing wrecked youths (e.g. Rosanna Spearman in The Moonstone and Miss Minerva in Heart and Science), and so forth. We feel for their cruel intentions, their tragic plight, and their love unrequited but not being unveiled unless they confessed it. These heroines also build up the plot and sensation along the stories. How about in this post, I shed some lighter light of love and romance by referring some other lovable Wilkie Collins’s short stories and essays?
“After all, my dear,” she remarked, “you needn’t be ashamed of having spoken first. You have only used the ancient privilege of the sex. This is Leap Year.” (Miss Morris and the Stranger, Little Novels)
Miss Morris is a governess who has lately come out of age. She is originally from a decayed town (an opinion quoted by the stranger in the story) named Sandwich. There, while she is walking back to her employer’s family home she encounters a stranger who consults her the way to the Inn. Sandwich has “not one straight street in the whole town” and the stranger is a very shy gentleman. “He was not only a gentleman beyond all doubt, but a shy gentleman as well. His bluntness and his odd remarks were, as I thought, partly efforts to disguise his shyness, and partly refuges in which he tried to forget his own sense of it.” Of course, with an unified empathy and amicability of feminine qualities, it is so very pleasant and sweet to find the heroine takes the initiatives to the stranger in the end. Also, because that time is the Leap Year.
I believe many of you know that Leap Year is the time of tradition that ladies could have the unmissed opportunities to pop the question to gentleman under little risks that their proposal should be refused. (but not that I know of after I read this story!) One of the most most iconic leap years during the 19th century must be the Royal Wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Although Queen Victoria proposed around late Autumn of 1839 but they were pronounced man and wife in 1840. Apart from that, there was one notable and significant philanthropist in the contemporary who had the guts and courage to make offers of union to respectable men – Angela Burdett-Coutts (1814-1906). At her later stages at 67 she married 29-year-old William Lehman Ashmead Bartlett. Angela Burdett-Coutts was one of the women in her days who defied others’ opinions and norms.
While I am browsing online the antique postcards of women proposing in leap year, I often find, particularly in the late 19th century and beginning of 1900, some pictures of ladies ensnaring men on the streets. In this case, the pictures seem animating strongly by women’s act and not by their sweet tooth and words. I think it is kind of rollicking that eligible gentlemen were victimised in that way, but it also somehow shows that the fairer sex, always being conceptualised as restrained and submissive of that time are hopefully envisaged on that day and year that they could finally, like the time of suffragette movement, be more liberating and domineering to subdue rather than subduing, to react ferociously in taking the lead regarding their once-in-a-lifetime decisions. The pictures could be satirical and ironic but are they somewhat humorous, and duly warm to the hearts of women? I think so. Moreover, the alternative calling “Bachelor’s Day” should be deemed such a reward to men that women could usurp the gender role and take the initiatives.
I AM a shy young man, with a limited income. My residence is in the country; my hair is light; my cheeks are rosy; my stature is small; my manners are mild; my name is Koddle.
In an article of A Shy Scheme by Wilkie Collins published in Household Holds in 1858. Written in the perspectives of a shy young man, he seems to think in his time the ladies and the whole society are still caged by the norms of how they should behave and handle as regards romance and matrimonial aspects. Although “the wisdom of the ancients seems to have sanctioned some such salutary change of custom as that which I propose, at the period of Leap-year”, “the practice has fallen into disuse; and the modest men of the community have suffered unspeakably in consequence”. To this shy young man, we ladies could call him lazy, laid-back, indifferent, irresponsible, but deep down, the inherent law of courtship is a torture to him; often he would retreat at his eleventh-hour, and all his efforts of proposing go into futility and haze. He praises many qualities of shy young ladies in his days. Although they are coy in person, they are more effortlessly sociable on the outset to divert any embarrassment on the part of gatherings and courtship.
To refer to my own case, I have remarked that my charmer’s shyness differs from mine in being manageable, graceful, and, more than that, in being capable of suppressing itself and of assuming a disguise of the most amazing coolness and self-possession on certain trying occasions. I have heard the object of my affections condemned by ignorant strangers as a young woman of unpleasantly audacious manners, at the very time when my intimate familiarity with her character assured me that she was secretly suffering all the miseries of extreme confusion and self-distrust. Whenever I see her make up a bold face, by drawing her hair off her forehead, and showing the lovely roots all round; whenever I hear her talking with extraordinary perseverance, and laughing with extraordinary readiness; whenever I. see her gown particularly large in pattern, and her ribbands dazzlingly bright in colour; then, I feel certain that she is privately quaking with all the most indescribable and most unreasonable terrors of shyness…My experience has not been a large one; but that is my humble idea of the real nature of a woman’s shyness.
The shy young man then moans that every other year should be considered “for matrimonial purposes, a Leap Year, and give the unhappy bashful bachelor a good twelvemonth’s chance of getting an offer”.
Article: A Shy Scheme
All in all, taking the lead in courtship and romance in the olden days seemed to concern social positions, others’ perspectives and norms, that it might not be the case of women in those days to change reversely the role if they were to do so. In these days, where women are more salient and willing to confess their love are the places of fan clubs, red carpets, songwriting and social media. In reality of speaking in words, what would the Victorians think if men in these days are still being treated as the managerial role in courtship and proposal in marriage? Well, I think, being narrow-minded as I am, women are supposedly bolder these days. But I never heard in my circles that women are the ones who take initiatives in courtship.