In "Cousin Phillis" Elizabeth Gaskell shows Phillis Holman's love experience to be inseparable from her education. Gaskell's male narrator naively supposes that having a male education makes Phillis "more a like man than a woman"; however, the male supervision of her studies and the lessons of her readings in classical and foreign literature confirm instead the constraints of Victorian womanhood. Gaskell's allusion to the Phillises of Virgil, Ovid, and the Renaissance pastoral tradition implies demeaning and self-destructive models for her heroine and, more broadly, a critique of the representation of women in literary texts. Phillis Holman's abandonment and collapse repeat the patterns of her classical namesakes, but ultimately she eludes their reductive definitions of womanhood and establishes her individuality in the will to live.
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