The Superiority of Women over Men: John Ruskin (1819-1900), English writer, art critic, and reformer’s Observations in Sesame and Lilies. Lecture II.—Lilies: Of Queens’ Gardens

According to John Ruskin (1819 - 1900), the place of women in society is much more dignified than even that of men. Ruskin hates the idea of treating women as mere shadow and attendant image of their lord.i.e. men. Really there is no difference between man and women. According to him, a woman is a dignified creature. He corroborates his opinion with the testimony of the great authors regarding the true dignity of women.

In his lecture Of Queens’ Gardens he first takes Shakespeare, “Shakespeare has no heroes; he has only heroine”. Ruskin says, there is no one entirely heroic figure in all his plays, except the slight sketch of Henry the 5th. In his laboured and perfect plays, there is virtually no hero. All the heroes of these plays are glomourless before the shining characters of the heroines. But Othello is the only example approximation to the heroic type. On the other hand, there is hardly a play that has not a perfect woman in it.

Farther Ruskin argues that the catastrophe of every play is caused always by the folly or fault of a man. The redemption, if there be any, is by the wisdom and virtue of a woman, and failing that, there is none.

In Shakespeare’s play women like Desdemona, Isabella, Hermione, queen Catharine, Sylvia, Viola, Rosalind , Helena and last, perhaps the loveliest, Virgilia are faultless, effortless and conceived in the highest heroic type of humanity.   

Image Courtesy: John Ruskin
However, it may be noticed that in Shakespeare’s plays there is only one weak woman: Ophelia; and it is because she fails hamlet to study at a critical moment. Finally though there are three wicked women among the principal figures: Lady Macbeth, Regan and Goneril. They are felt at once to be frightful exceptions to the ordinary laws of life; fatal in their influence also, in proportion to the power for good which they have abandoned.

Hence, Ruskin testifies the superiority of women over men. So far their virtues are concerned, represents them as infallibly faithful and wise counselor, incorruptibly just and pure examples. Ruskin also draws from other poets to justify his views. Chaucer has depicted the marvelous character of a good woman in the poem, The Legend of Good Woman. Similarly, Spenser draws the character of his women figures in noble and dignified terms. Even in ancient literature, the best virtues are seen to have personified as women. In Egypt, people gave to wisdom the form of a woman.

Thus, Lilies is a sermon for women. The  Queens’ Gardens represents Ruskin’s view of the true function and sphere of women. His aim is to demonstrate from the teachings of the world’s sage minds that such function is a guiding and not determining one, and that the domain of women is within her ambit of argument where she is the centre of order, the balm of distress, and the mirror of beauty. Women’s power is for rule , not for battle; and her intellect is not for invention but for sweet order, arrangement and decision. And whenever the true wife comes, the home is always round her. The stars only may be over the head , the glowworm in the night-cold grass may be the only fire at her foot; but home is yet wherever she is ; and for a noble  woman it stretches fair round her; better than sealed with cedar, with or painted with vermilion.

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