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Alienation in Landscape for a Good Woman 

In her introduction to Landscape for a Good Woman, Carolyn Steedman claims that "this is a drama of class" (22); she blames her mother's working-class background -- where "fierce resentment against the unfairness of things, was carried through seventy years and three generations ... [and] dissolved into the figure of [her] mother" (30) -- for her own joyless childhood. The shocking portrait of Steedman's mother, who tells her children repeatedly both in her actions and words how unwanted they are, redefines the culturally normative nurturing role of motherhood.

While Steedman's passionate argument -- that her mother's history of material inequality was responsible for the creation of this monster-martyr-mother -- must not be discounted, it is incomplete. Her claim is convincing; however, her mother's poor decisions were also contributory causes. For example, Edna selected a married man who already had a daughter as the prince who would fulfill her desires for property, material goods and status which seems risky at best. However, her desperate, failed attempt to become his wife through motherhood after ten years of cohabitation is striking for both its evident lack of foresight and blindness to reality. It is difficult to imagine that her fantasy whereby life would somehow improve from this decision ever had the chance to be anything but a recipe for failure, especially since she pinned her hopes on this ploy not once,but twice.

Perhaps Steedman wishes to imply that her mother's working-class status is responsible for her poor decision making skills. She certainly wants to convince us that her mother's desire for things is not trivial; and she blames her "mother's sense of unfairness, her belief that she had been refused entry to her rightful place in the world" (112), on her working-class status. While this is certainly a key factor in the disturbing tale, it is not the only factor; therefore, the story is more than a drama of class, for this complex portrait of Steedman's mother is that of a vain, mean-spirited, bitter woman whose priorities were in disorder. The fact that Steedman's mother's working-class relatives did not visit this "illegitimate" family indicates that her lack of a marriage certificate was unacceptable within her own class as well.

It seems likely that both factors, her position in England's rigid class structure and her bad choices, led to her alienation and failed attempt to use motherhood for material gain, causing her to severely harm her children. To solely blame her mother's pathology on her working-class status unfairly denies that there must have been many nurturing mothers within this category of society who made good life decisions that allowed them to raise happy well- adjusted children in joyful environments.


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