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Marguerite Poland


Chapter 18:
Questions to challenge you!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 4 March 2014
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Frances is sent to Grahamstown to stay with Victor's mother and prepare for her inevitable wedding.

In the meantime, Walter's nightmare becomes a reality: he is assigned to Mbokothwe, the mission station which he feared the most.


The Victorian Age -- named after Queen Victoria who ruled the British Empire for 63 years (1837-1901) -- was marked by a deeply conservative morality.

Indeed, it was a morality which covered every facet of society from sexual mores to codes of dress.

The Victorians were essentially middle class English, caught up in a very strict religion. They were wealthy but believed their wealth came as a blessing from God.

But what God gives, God can also take away. If that were to happen, the Victorians believed they would be plunged back into abject poverty.

To avoid such a catastrophe, the Victorians followed a puritan way of life. Anything that brought sin upon their heads was to be avoided.

The ultimate sin lay in unbridled sexuality. Avoidance of all temptation therefore lay at the forefront of their morality.

For the Victorians, the purpose of marriage was primarily for the bearing of children and to prevent husbands from burning up with sexual desire. Sex for the wife was therefore a duty and was not meant to be pleasurable.

Sex was, however, something that was strictly to be confined to marriage. Sexual rules were therefore simple: there could be no sex until after marriage. Even kissing was considered dangerous.

A woman who lost her virginity outside of marriage was regarded as "fallen" and therefore a harlot. Indeed, few men would seek a marital alliance with such a person.

Since middle class Victorian women were not expected to work, a good marriage was essential. A "fallen" woman, however, had little marital prospects and was therefore doomed to a life of poverty.

On the other hand, couples did engage in sex outside of marriage but, if they were found out -- usually by an unexpected pregnancy -- it was expected that they would immediately marry.

Indeed, not to marry would bring humiliation to the whole family. Should a father even suspect that a prospective marital partner was having sex with his daughter, he was justified in forcing the young man into marriage.

The Victorians were also noted for their strict dress codes. Men always wore long pants, polished shoes, jacket, tie and hat on almost all occasions.

Women ensured that almost every part of their bodies was covered: long-sleeved dresses with the lace overlapping the wrist, high collars and wide skirts which reached to the ankles.

Corsets were popular as a means of keeping the waistline narrow. The bra, however, was only invented in the 1930s.

Men were never to be seen nude or semi-nude in front of a woman. Women were in fact expected to avert their eyes even if the man was merely without his shirt.

Women were certainly never to be seen nude or semi-nude in front of a man, even if that man was her husband.

Sex within marriage therefore happened in the dark and usually fully dressed in night-clothes. The woman's night-dress might be rolled up but not removed!

When it came to sea-bathing, separate areas were designated for men and for women. Women were often taken out into the breakers on board bathing booths on wheels, so that the men would not even see them alighting into the water.

Even so, the ankle length skirts of their bathing costumes were weighed down with lead pellets lest the skirt float and reveal even so much as the woman's legs under the water.

Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:

How does one explain Emily's coldness of heart as is revealed in the opening pages of this chapter? (5)

[Need help?]

"No, Helmina had missed none of them. None. And those she had not seen, she had invented. She could feel the tears herself, crowding in behind her lids. How closely and how damningly she faced her own deceit."
  • Comment on these lines as a reflection of Helmina Smythe's attitude and thoughts. (5)

[Need help?]

Walter feels he has failed Frances.
  • Has he failed her? What else could he have done to help her? (5)

[Need help?]

Why is Frances sent to Grahamstown? (5)

[Need help?]

Explain Helmina's reaction to Walter's transfer to Mbokothwe. (5)

[Need help?]

Try another worksheet?

See also:
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