In my previous analysis, I explored female gender roles in the Victorian Era and discussed how Lizzy Midford from Black Butler fit into the social norms of the time. Based on the beginning of the manga and the three seasons of the anime that have been released so far, my conclusion was mixed. At the time, women were expected to be gentle, weak, quiet and completely reliant on their husbands. Upper-class women had even more standards. They need to attend events, follow etiquette rules, and dress in a certain fashion to be considered socially acceptable.
Lizzy fits into some of these categories, but not all of them. She is the daughter of Marquis, so she is very high up on the social scale- the highest forms of nobility. She wears all of the latest fashion and regularly attends extravagant social gatherings. One part of her personality that some may have considered valuable was her affection and loyalty to her fiance, Ciel. Every woman was supposed to act like the perfect wife. However, her personality is the complete opposite of how women were supposed to act. She is loud, opinionated, and lets her emotions get the best of her. She tends to have outbursts and make scenes, which would be considered unacceptable for a high-class woman.
On the surface, she seems vain, frivolous, and frankly annoying. But Lizzy’s character is a lot more complicated than the audience first realizes as is revealed in the later chapters of the manga. Lizzy’s secret will also be exposed in the upcoming Black Butler: Book Of The Atlantic Movie, set for release on January 21, 2017. This piece is going to be explore the later chapters of the manga (around chapter 50 and so on) and the events in the movie, so prepare for many, many spoilers!
Lizzy’s True Personality
As I just explained, Lizzy may seem very irritating at first, but she is quite complex. Let’s start by exploring one of her most comment traits: her tendency to glomp Ciel. Whenever she sees him, Lizzy becomes extremely clingy. Her love seems like puppy love or very shallow. But this isn’t true. Lizzy actually cares very deeply for Ciel.
In Chapter 58 of the manga, Lizzy explains her feelings for Ciel and how they have influenced her to act a certain way. Firstly, Ciel is the reason that Lizzy dresses so cutely. When Ciel was younger, he was scared of Lizzy’s mother, Francis Midford, because she was strict and intimidating. Ciel states that he is glad he is marrying Lizzy who isn’t like her mother. From there, Lizzy becomes obsessed with being a cute, dependent, wife so Ciel will like her.
At this point, Lizzy is taking on the common role that many women played, fitting perfectly into the gender stereotype of the era. However, events in the story happen that change this. Drastically. When he was ten years old, Ciel’s family was attacked. His parents were murdered and his mansion was burnt down. On top of this, Ciel was kidnapped and tortured. When he returns back to his home with Sebastian, he is extremely different. He doesn’t smile anymore. He is frail and weak. Lizzy notices this, and howt she has grown taller than him. She is a girl and yet she is stronger than him. This is when Lizzy changes. She decides she is going to protect him. Now Lizzy has taken the opposite role of most women in the Victorian Era. She is no longer depending on her spouse. She is going to be the one taking care of herself and her fiance.
But How Is Lizzy Going To Protect Ciel? (This is where the major spoilers come in)
Those haven’t read the manga or seen the movie are probably assuming that Lizzy is just a weak little girl. This is wrong. Lizzy is quite skillful and capable of protecting others and kicking some ass. How? With swords. That’s right, swords. In the Atlantic arc, the main conflict is that Ciel, Lizzy, and many other characters are trapped on a cruise ship… filled with zombies. Yes, zombies. At one point, Ciel and Lizzy become cornered by the undead, and their fates seemed finished. Until Lizzy takes out two swords and starts massacring the zombies with skill and speed.
But how does Lizzy know how to sword handle a sword so well? The answer is her family ties. She is the daughter of Marquis Alexis Leon Midford, who is the leader of the British Knights. Apparently Elizabeth’s family has protected England for generations as knights. Because of this, Lizzy was trained to sword fight from a young age. She also happened to be a prodigy. Her ability to use a sword saved both her and Ciel, and revealed to the Black Butler fanbase that she is a much deeper (and more awesome) character than we all originally thought. Fans may have rejoiced at her sword fighting, but how would have others in the social order of England have reacted?
Is Sword Fighting Ladylike?
Knights and Marquises
Based on the strict gender roles and expectations of women in the Victorian, you may be wondering if Lizzy sword fighting been socially acceptable for a girl. I was wondering this too and did a lot of research, and I was surprised by the results. Let’s break it down little by little.
Firstly, most should be familiar with the term “knight.” In this sense, the word knight is not referring to the modern honorary title of knight (such as how Paul McCartney was knighted). It is referring to the more common kind that most people associate with the word- a soldier who does military tasks for the leader of a country or kingdom. Usually, knights were male, so it might seem strange that Lizzy and her mother are knights. The truth is that, although rare, female knights have existed in history, including in the 1800’s and earlier. Although certain circumstances can complicate things (like marrying a commoner), knighthood is usually passed on to a knight’s descendant, so it is likely that Lizzy’s mother and Lizzy herself actually held the title of knight. And since she was technically a knight, Lizzy being trained to sword fight is plausible.
Everyone should have a general idea about knights, but what in the world is a Marquis? A Marquis, sometimes referred to as a “March Lord”, is the highest title in the line of nobility after royalty. It looks like this:
And so on
Based on this, Lizzy would actually be considered higher up than Ciel, who is an Earl.
So what does a Marquis do? Most noblemen were given some sort of task to help protect their kingdom. A Marquis’s estate was usually on the border of England and its surrounding neighbors. Their job was to protect the borders from outsiders. Was it common practice for Marquis to train their families in combat? I could not find any research on this topic, but I suppose it is possible. In Lizzy’s case, her family seems to take their titles and their duties very seriously, as shown in the previous picture, and the one directly below.
Although it may sound strange at first, female knights did exist in England. Based on the roles that these two titles played, it is possible that Lizzy would have been trained to practice the sword. Her noble and knight title would give her a reason to sword fight and protect others, including her fiance. But what about an upper-class girl or woman who wasn’t a knight or the daughter of a Marquis?
High Class Society
A stereotype that is ingrained in many societies is that boys and men are more athletic than women. Males usually dominate sports. With the Victorian Era’s narrow view of women, many people may assume that the same was true during the time. Women were supposed to be meek, so sports, like sword fighting, seems out of the question. However, apparently upper-class Victorian women commonly partook in many different sports, including croquet, cycling, and fencing. Although women could participate in these sports, the gender stigmas still applied. For example, croquet does not require a lot of strength, which is why is was considered perfect for women. Fencing may seem a little more rigorous than croquet, but gender roles were still inherent in the sport.
In an article entitled “Women’s Fencing: Keep the Body Youthful” that was published in 1895 in the magazine Home Chat, the author explains that fencing was good for females because “[they] can express grace of movement and beauty of finish to perfection.” The whole article is filled with the graceful expectations women were supposed to uphold. Even the title (“Keep the Body Youthful”) hints at typical gender stereotypes of the time. The Girl’s Own Paper is another example of a publication of the time that encouraged women to play sports and exercise, but is also filled with stigmas. However, the truth is that girls could have been taught how to fence and handle a sword even if they weren’t descendants of knights or nobility.
How about outside of sports, though? Could a high-class woman use a sword to fight? Apparently, yes. Just like men, women could have “duels of honor” whenever there was a dispute they wanted to settle. This included women of any social status, including working class and noble woman. They could fight over the most frivolous thing, exchanging swords and possibly hurting one another. From what I understand, men were more likely to hold these duels, but women did indeed have the occasional sword fight.
I admit I was surprised at these findings. I assumed that fencing would have been forbidden for women, but apparently that wasn’t so- it was popular and even encouraged in some cases. I was even more surprised by women having sword duels. Since women were thought to be weak and were supposed to be very composed, I would think a duel to the death would have been social suicide. Again, they apparently didn’t happen as often as men’s duels, but they did happen. This leaves us to the final question.
Would Lizzy Have Been Considered A Proper Lady?
Women were very constrained in the Victorian Era. They needed to act a certain way- always be graceful and poised, always composed, always dependent on their husband. They also had to follow strict etiquette rules while attending social gatherings and events. Because of this, I thought Lizzy’s desire to protect Ciel and her mastery of the sword would have been considered unladylike.
However, my research suggests otherwise. Lizzy’s family, the Midfords, holds both the title of Knight and Marquis. Even though they were rare, women knights have existed and have fought for their country. This means it is possible that Lizzy would have been trained as a knight and how to use the sword. Something that furthers this idea more is how her father is a Marquis, whose duty is to the defend the border of England. Her family may have decided to train Lizzy to help fulfill their role as nobles. It seems that Lizzy’s family takes their titles very seriously. Even if Lizzy wasn’t a noblewoman, it turns out that her sword fighting still may have been considered appropriate among high-class women. Fencing was a popular sport for women in the Victorian Era, and even encouraged by some publications. Although rare, women of all classes also sometimes held duels of honor, using real swords.
Based on this reasoning, Lizzy being able to so skillfully use a sword would have been socially acceptable. It may have been considered odd, but not totally unheard of. And of course, every person in high society would have their own opinions and interpretations.
Of course, this is assuming people found out under normal circumstances. Lizzy kept her sword fighting secret except for a select few. She didn’t want her cutesy reputation to be ruined. But if people found out for the first time while on that cruise ship- Lizzie thrusting her sword through the zombies’ bodies, their blood and guts splattering all over her expensive dress- they probably would have been taken aback. I doubt killing sprawls of undead would be considered very ladylike, and it probably did hurt her reputation in some capacity among the gossipy types. Some may have been turned off by the idea that she wanted to protect her fiance, since women were supposed to be very dependent. Her loud, and emotional behavior would have hurt her image as well.
However, her nobility status, engagement to Ciel, fashion sense, regular attendance at social gatherings, and knowledge of the upper-class lifestyle all would have made her seem like the perfect wife and lady according to the norms of time. I think outside of the zombie incident, she would have been regarded favorably, even with her questionable behavior and mastery fencing skills. But even if the most stuffy and petty noble saw her killing those zombies, there is they cannot deny that she was heroic and saved many lives.
My opinion? Lizzy is a badass who challenges the set-in-stone gender stereotypes of the time. She showed everyone that a woman can be strong physically and mentally, and has the capability to protect others if she is given a chance. She wears beautiful Victorian clothing, full of lace and grace- but she can also kick some major butt. She is the best of both worlds. I CANNOT wait to see her in action in the upcoming movie.
What is your opinion? Would she have been accepted in high-class society? If anyone is knowledgeable about the Victorian Era and its gender roles, feel free to give some insight!
The movie that adapts this part of the manga and reveals Lizzy true character is out! Read my review of it here.
Crossby, Robin. “…but Nobility Is.” Knighthood. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Jan. 2017.
Doughty, Terri. Selections from the Girl’s Own Paper, 1880-1907. Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview, 2004. Web.
Piecuch, Jim. “Honorable Lords and Pretended Barons: Sorting Out the Noblemen of the American Revolution.” Journal of the American Revolution. Journal of the American Revolution, 28 Aug. 2016. Web. 05 Jan. 2017.
“Victorian Games & Sports,Tennis, Cricket, Football, Croquet, Cycling.” Victorian-Era.org. Victorian-Era.org, n.d. Web. 05 Jan. 2017.
“Women’s Fencing: Keep the Body Youthful.” History Spinner. Miss Mary LLC, 16 July 2016. Web. 05 Jan. 2017.
“Women Knights in the Middle Ages.” Women Knights. Heraldica, 21 Oct. 2005. Web. 05 Jan. 2017.