As a fan of classic literature, I have read Jane Austin’s famous novel Pride and Prejudice and more recently read Sense and Sensibility. The second book, Sense and Sensibility, is about two young women in 19th century Britain trying to find suitable husbands. In their search for a lover, the book outlines many of the gender roles expected of women and what made a “good wife” and a “proper lady” at the time.
Black Butler is my favorite manga of all time and, as I read Jane Austin’s book, I repeatedly thought of Lizzy and Ciel’s arranged marriage. Sense and Sensibility takes place in the beginning of the 1800s, while Black Butler happens in the 1880s. However, many of the gender roles and stereotypes set for women were same during both times. I personally adore Lizzy as a character, but, as I read Sense and Sensibility, I began to wonder if she would have been considered a proper wife based on the strict gender sphere of the era.
Therefore, here is my analysis of Lizzy’s character and how she would have been seen as a woman in high class Victorian life.
Who is Lizzy?
If you aren’t familiar with the series, Elizabeth Midford, or Lizzy for short, is the daughter of The Marquessate of Midford. The Midfords are a family of nobles that also act as knights to protect Britain and Queen Victoria. Because of this title and her family’s power, Lizzy was engaged to Earl Ciel Phantomhive at a young age. Ciel is also from a family of nobles and owns a successful international trading company. Together, they would make a very powerful and influential couple when married.
General Gender Roles of The Victorian Age
Gender roles were very strict in the Victorian Era. Men were seen as superior to women, and wives were supposed to be very obedient to their husbands (Hughes). Poor or working-class women sometimes had to hold jobs, but high class women usually stayed at home to take care of their children. Because of they had so much time on their hands, upper class women attended different gatherings and events, but with this lifestyle came strict social rules and etiquette (Georgie Broad). If a woman didn’t follow these ideals, they would be judged and possibly not seen as a suitable wife.
Attire and Appearance
Women in high society had specific beauty and clothing requirements they were supposed to follow. They wore elegant dresses with corsets, hoop skirts, and jewelry. Having a pale complexion was considered beautiful and women did many strange remedies in order to make their skin whiter (Caitlin L).
A Lady never dare leave the house looking less than her best or else face the harsh criticisms of society. (Image originally ran in Punch, 1890 via)
Specific Traits and Mannerisms
*Note- This next paragraph quotes and screenshots the manga, but does not contain spoilers about the plot; just Lizzy’s thoughts and reflections on gender roles. Also, exact quotes may differ based on the translation.
Women were expected to have a certain demeanor in order to be considered socially acceptable, such as acting in “a graceful and feminine manner” (Kathryn Hughes). Lizzy herself admits being pressured by the social norms of the time. In Chapter 59 of the manga, the first page opens with Lizzy thinking, “What are girls made of? Sugar and spice, and everything nice, they’re made out of this and that.” She also reflects on the things that Madam Red taught her as a child about being “a lady.” As Madam Red explains, “A lady should be super weak and cute in front of her lord. It’s the most important thing to be an innocent, naive girl. It’s your job to smile and be surrounded by nice things. Just like in the nursery rhymes.” Other gender roles that were etched into Lizzy were “Poetry over philosophy. Embroidery rather than cooking. Dance instead of chess. Be an unknown angel. Every girl in the country of rose is raised by these words” (Toboso).
Here are screenshots of these scenes, but again, there are no spoilers.
These traits and expectations have also been mentioned in all kinds of research and literature. For example, in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, the main character of the same name, explains that “women are supposed to be very calm generally.” In Pride and Prejudice, the character Charlotte Bingley says that “[women] must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions” (Austin). The idea that women should act a certain way and be composed comes up repeatedly in Sense and Sensibility, especially when the two girls, Elinor and Marianne, are looking for husbands. Elinor is seen as the more mature sister because she is reserved, while Marianne is often looked down upon because she is straight forward and emotional. In order to appear likable in front of company, Elinor is always very particular about how she acts and what she says.
So Far, Does Lizzy Fit This Image?
In terms of her social life and appearance, Lizzy follows the rules of upper class Britain. She frequently visits social gatherings, such as balls and dance parties. She has an entire wardrobe full of gorgeous, stylish Victorian dresses and frequently wears jewelry.
On the other hand, does she fit the demeanor that women were supposed to have?
In terms of being weak and dependent, she accomplishes this perfectly on the surface (more about this in Part 2). In the beginning of the manga and throughout the course of the anime, she is always doting on Ciel. She tries to appear cheerful and is constantly bringing Ciel gifts and souvenirs that are the latest fashion. Lizzy comes off as extremely innocent and naive, and definitely likes to surround herself in cute, nice things, just like Madam Red suggested.
But what about being calm and composed?
To put it bluntly, Lizzy fails at this. She is the complete opposite of this depiction. She is loud, hyper, and pushy. Whenever she sees Ciel, she screams, runs, and glomps him. This probably would have been considered very unladylike at the time. She also forces her opinions and likes on others around her, such as making Ciel and his servants wear very frilly, cutesy clothing. At this time, women really weren’t supposed to do be so forceful, especially toward men. Another issue with Lizzy’s demeanor is that she is not very composed when it comes to her emotions. When she is agitated, she shows it in very obnoxious and brash ways. For example, Lizzy gets upset when she sees that Ciel isn’t wearing a ring she bought for him. Ciel didn’t want to wear her ring because it would mean taking off his blue-jeweled ring, which is a precious family heirloom. Instead of listening to Ciel, Lizzy lashes out, taking the blue-jeweled ring and throwing it against the ground where it cracks. Ciel and Lizzy make up later, but it is undeniable that her actions would be considered very rude and rash, even in today’s standards. Those very actions probably would have been social suicide in the Victorian era.
Maybe Lizzy’s craziness would have been considered okay behind closed doors, but she exhibits these traits in public as well, although not as extreme. When a disguised Ciel and Sebastian infiltrate a dance party, they accidentally run into Lizzy. Ciel runs away because he is dressed as a girl and does not want anyone recognizing him. However, Lizzy really likes the dress he is wearing and chases after him. As she does this, she squeals about how cute the dress is and runs past people dancing and mingling. Doing this in the middle of a social gathering would probably have been considered ungracious and immature.
I believe that Lizzy would be received with mixed opinions during the Victorian period, assuming her personality didn’t change as she grew older. She would have been respected due to her family’s nobility and her engagement to the Phantomhive’s heir. Her fashion sense, upbringing, and experience in social events probably would have been admired, but her loud, pushy, and emotional personality would probably make her the favorite topic of gossiping women and others who didn’t condone that kind of behavior. However, people may have liked the way she clung to Ciel and always tried to make him happy.
But is Lizzy really as frail and innocent as she seems? Find out in Part 2!
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. New York: Modern Library, 1995. Print.
Austen, Jane. Sense and Sensibility. New York: Modern Library, 1995. Print.
Board, Georgie. “How the Other Half Lived: Rich and Poor Women in Victorian Britain.” History Is Now. History Is Now Magazine, 21 Apr. 2014. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.
Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. New York: Knopf, 1991. Print.
Hughes, Kathryn. “Gender Roles in the 19th Century.” The British Library. The British Library, 13 Feb. 2014. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.