Victorian women’s writing is fascinating. Victorian society was organised by powerful men. The highest value in Victorian society was given to white, wealthy, married men. Anything other than that ideal: being a woman; being poor; being unmarried; being what is now referred to as of Black or Minority Ethnic origin, but was then referred to even in ‘polite company’ by a range of derogatory and demeaning terms, in line with the general ideology of the time: any move away from the ideal form was considered of less value and actively discriminated against. As some women began to find a small amount of freedom to think about what life could be like outside the claustrophobic straight jacket of what their husbands thought was appropriate for them, and began to write novels about the lives they imagined, the result was often a tragic realisation that there was no hope of realising in Victorian society the ways of life they would choose if free to do so.
Today we have so much more freedom to live as we wish to do. But all of us, even if we are not white, wealthy, married men, also have the same urge as the culturally dominant Victorian men to put ourselves and our preferences at the centre and devalue everything that does not conform to our ideals, whatever they may be. In doing so we diminish the life experiences of others in our community. We also diminish ourselves when we do this because we make the world a darker place, less creative and interesting, less happy and hopeful.
The attacks on the Mosques in New Zealand are an extreme example of someone allowing their prejudices and intolerance of others to take on a truly dark and disgusting form in such cowardly violence; the murder of men, women, children, toddlers; all pausing to pray. Jesus is clear in the Gospels that acts of murder begin as acts of intolerance, prejudice, hatred in the human heart. Witnessing the extreme might give us pause for thought and prayer about more casual, seemingly more harmless acts of prejudice and intolerance. Following Jesus, St Irenaeus said: The glory of God is a human being fully alive. Let us help each other to live fully, to realise our hopes, to love beyond cultural and ideological differences, to love even the other whom we find difficult to tolerate and challenging; to be open to learn from what is different; and crucially for the health and peace of our own community, to appropriately weigh and address intolerance and prejudice and nip it in the bud.
All the best, David