"Orlando takes his Rosalind"
As You Like It; Orlando, Celia and Rosalind (1853)
Public DomainAs You Like It; Orlando, Celia and Rosalind (1853) - Credit: Walter Deverell

Referring once again to Shakespeare, this time Carter quotes As You Like It in which Rosalind, the heroine of the play who has fled to the forest in disguise as a boy, ends with marrying her lover Orlando.  The line 'To you I give myself, for I am yours,' is Rosalind's from Act 5, scene 4.

Lizzie criticises the line from a feminist angle, seeing how the dominant female of the play is subjugated to the male partner through marriage.  However, the line moves the action on from the gloomy focus on Shakespearian tragedy which has dominated the previous chapters, and hints at a happier ending to come.  Similarly, as Mignon and the Princess met the Maestro on page 272 she commented, 

'It's as though he's found his long-lost daughter,' said Lizzie.  'As at the end of one of Shakespeare's late comedies.  Only he's found two daughters.  A happy ending, squared.'

For Fevvers, however, the prospect of marriage does not necessarily represent a happy ending.  She is the undisputed heroine of the book, of the circus, of London and Paris, of the skies and potentially the globe.  She, unlikely Rosalind, is not prepared to become the possession of any man.

Emmeline Pankhurst addresses suffragettes, 1908
Public DomainEmmeline Pankhurst addresses suffragettes, 1908 - Credit: The New York Times

Early in the 20th century, feminism became increasingly prominent as Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928) founded the Women's Social and Political Union in the UK in 1903.  With the loosening of Victorian morals, and increased employment for women, clothing became more practical, education improved and women had more freedom to lead their own lives.  The term 'suffragettes' was coined in 1906, and the right to vote became the leading battle of a wider feminist movement seeking equality in all aspects of society.  Whilst Fevvers' wings flaunt her uniqueness, this movement fought for every woman's individuality and right to an opinion.

On the cusp of the twentieth century, Fevvers is far ahead of her time in seeing Walser as an object of pleasure with out the necessity to make him a husband; a concept which was not fully embraced, for practical reasons as much as any other, until the invention of the contraceptive pill in the 1960s.  If marriage were to take place, she goes on to say, she will be the dominant partner; even today, women are likely to earn less and to achieve less in their careers than men, are less likely to achieve management roles, to enter politics, and are far more likely to stay at home with children whilst partners continue working.  It may be that many western women dominate in their own home or immediate sphere, but Fevvers' assumption that the New Man will become a 'fitting mate for the New Woman', is far from universal.