Helena Ifill
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John Marchmont’s Legacy
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In John Marchmont’s Legacy, Braddon draws on two dominant Victorian female stereotypes: the ideal woman, or Angel in the House; and the emotionally volatile woman who, as prevailing medical discourse of the era asserted, was a prey to the influence of her reproductive system. The intellectually brilliant and emotionally repressed Olivia Marchmont is the antithesis of the ideal woman, while her monomaniacal malicious actions (inspired by unrequited love for her cousin Edward) seem to confirm a connection between female sexuality and pathological behaviour. Olivia is at once not womanly enough, and too womanly, leading to inconsistencies in her characterisation which reveal the incongruity of Victorian conceptions of gender, whilst allowing for speculation about what it means to be a woman. Olivia is also compared with two critically neglected, hyper-feminine, female characters, Mary Marchmont and Belinda Lawford. In her depiction of Belinda particularly, Braddon shows her readers the near-impossible combination of deterministic factors required to form the prized ideal woman, and implies that to hold women up to such standards is not only unrealistic but ignores the potential of women who may be able to contribute to society in ways that do not conform to narrow and essentialist conceptions of gender

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