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By Jeannette King (auth.)
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Extra info for Discourses of Ageing in Fiction and Feminism: The Invisible Woman
Judging by much of the writing of the period, younger women were as likely to be influenced by negative images of the old as by a writer like Cobbe. In spite of – or because of – the older woman’s increasing involvement in public life, publications like Punch continued to use Spinsters, Widows and Mothers 33 old women as images of the undesirable and the ridiculous in its cartoons, drawing on physical stereotypes – either wasted and masculine, or grossly overweight – to indicate the weakness or absurdity of the subject being lampooned, often the question of Irish Home Rule.
20 This thematic emphasis on sisterhood is reinforced by the novel’s structure. Even more than in Middlemarch, the emphasis is on the community and interactions within it, rather than on the development of one or two individual lives. In contrast to those forms in which the 32 Discourses of Ageing in Fiction and Feminism chronological plot structure is emphatically linear, emphasising the passage of time, Cranford conveys very little sense of time passing, even though we can establish that Miss Matty ages from 51 at the beginning of the novel to 58 at its end.
The novel also presents a sample of widows and Old Maids. The Reverend Farebrother lives with a houseful of older women: his Spinsters, Widows and Mothers 27 white-haired mother, in her sixties, her sister Miss Noble, and Miss Winifred, Farebrother’s elder sister. The ladies are not just old, but ‘old-fashioned’, emphatically feminine and ‘befrilled’. Mrs Farebrother is forthright and assertive, confident in her experience and rights as a mother. In comparison, the unmarried members of the family have failed to achieve the status of adult women.