Holly Wiegand (Boston University)
In The Mill on the Floss, young Maggie Tulliver wearily muses, “Our life is determined for us; and it makes the mind very free when we give up wishing, and only think of bearing what is laid upon us, and doing what is given us to do.” Here, Maggie speaks alongside many 19th-century women who encountered the need to ‘bear up’ under a host of socio-political pressures and constrictions. While we might eagerly acknowledge proto-feminist declarations of women’s selfhood in the period, we should not overlook women’s strategies for affirming and sustaining that selfhood across time in quieter ways—successfully or otherwise. In the passage, for example, Maggie seems to trade ambition for acceptance because of its promised long-term viability.
This panel seeks explorations of 19th-century women’s tools for resilience—how women authors and characters sought to maintain their sense of identity amid extended oppression. Women’s tactics appear in rhetorical postulations, like Maggie’s, but they also might be found in unexpected places: defiant silences, embodied acts, or other modes of persistent resistance. Amid the period’s numerous challenges, what patterns of women’s resilience emerge? What practices help women sustainably weather hardship, and which are not? What might we learn from these women today?