Beauty vs. Intellect
“But I don’t know that it matters about being good when you are as beautiful as all that” (88). This quote was said by Phyllis and she was talking about Mrs. Watergate.
“Gertrude Lorimer was not a beautiful woman, and such good looks as she possessed varied from day to day, almost from hour to hour; but a certain air of character and distinction clung to her through all her varying moods, and redeemed her from a possible charge of plainness” (51).
"But there could be no doubt about your brains with that face" (128). Said by Phyllis about Gertrude.
According to the characters in The Romance of a Shop, if women are not beautiful, they need to be intelligent. Although Gertrude is a strong character, her appearance leaves something to be desired. Her wit and intelligence is what makes her an intriguing woman. Contrasting her person, Phyllis’ most prominent characteristic is her beauty. The quotes above help to further explore this idea. The quote from page 128 bluntly says that ugly women are assumed to be intelligent. Contrary to this idea, the quote from page 88 explains that substance doesn’t matter when external appearance is pleasing. The characters in this novel prove that no woman can possess both beauty and intelligence, but both types can find their place in society. Each sister knows their place at the start of the novel and follows their role throughout the narrative.
DQ: Are there any characters that you feel possess both beauty and intellect?
DQ: What does this say about their society?
“Fanny is a fool, and the other are children; but don’t you, Gertrude, know what is meant by a lost reputation?” (101). Said by Aunt Caroline.
“Conny’s been dancing every night this week-making me take her, too, by Jove!-and now, if you please, she’s got hot coppers” (89). Said by Frank.
“Do you realise that this latest development of our business is likely to excite remark?” (97). Said by Gertrude to Lucy.
The characters’ reputation is at times valued above their happiness. Aunt Caroline expects for her nieces to obtain a positive image at the expense of their happiness. But the three biological sisters have a different opinion about the best way for them to live. The choices they make reflect their decision to live contently, ignoring the expectations of society. It is a transitional time period and because of this women are starting to engage in activities that were formally thought of as inappropriate. Because they are doing things differently, their elders, such as Aunt Caroline, are worried about their reputation. Fred worries for Conny’s status because of her gallivanting until all hours of the night. These late night activities are new to the social conversation of this time but still looked down upon by others. The sisters are also worried about their “lost reputation” due to their odd work environment. It was looked down upon for female photographers to enter men’s apartment without a chaperone.
DQ: What do you think would become of the shop if the sisters were to lose their reputation?
DQ: What does it say about a society that values appearances over happiness?
Old vs. New
“Frances Lorimer was behind the age. She was an anachronism, belonging by rights to the period when young ladies played the harp, wore ringlets, and went into hysterics” (56).
“But a business- that is so different. It is progressive; a creature capable of growth; the very qualities in which women’s work is dreadfully lacking” (55).
“As for Fanny, it was touching to see how this faded flower had revived in the sunshine” (140).
This is one of the first feminist novels in the 19th century; therefore, there are two distinct types of women: the old and the new. Some of the characters seem to be stuck in the past in ways that they view as traditional. Gertrude, Phyllis, and Lucy are great examples of this New Woman. Fanny and Aunt Caroline are two examples of women who are stuck in the old female roles. “The old woman” is more accepted by society; this is shown by Fanny being the first to marry. Fanny was reluctant to open the shop with her sisters because her goal in life was to be married. Before her marriage her life was full of disappointment but after her proposal from Mr. Marsh we begin to see light in her character. Opening a photography shop solely ran by women was progressive for this time period.
DQ: Do any of the three biological sisters have “old women” tendencies along with their “new women” attitudes?
DQ: Do you feel that any of these “old women” tendencies are still a part of society today?
Money and Happiness
“They both laughed; they could, indeed, afford to laugh, for, regarded from a financial point of view, the morning had been an unusually satisfactory one” (98).
“We are poor people, and we are learning to find out the pleasures of the poor, to approach happiness from another side” (101).
“Poverty seemed to her the greatest of human calamities; she pitied even more than she despised it” (102). This quote is about Aunt Caroline.
Having money was seen as one of the more important characteristics of families in the 19th century. Some of the characters in the novel equate this wealth to happiness. Aunt Caroline would rather be rich and unhappy than be poor and happy. Fanny refused a marriage proposal due to lack of income despite her desire for matrimony. The sisters place themselves into the latter but choose to find happiness in their poverty. Although at times money can be the source of their happiness, such as the first quote above, but the majority of the time they are content despite their lack of financial stability.
DQ: The ‘New Women” in the novel appear to care less about money, but considering how the novel concludes, do you believe this to be true?
DQ: Do you believe that the Lorimer sisters are truly happy without money?