[Originally submitted on March 13, 1998 for History 305--Modern Europe 1789-1917. The assignment was to read Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann and The Subjection of Women by John Stuart Mill and to write about the content of Buddenbrooks in light of the John Stuart Mill.]
"The subjection of women to men being a universal custom, any departure from it quite naturally appears unnatural" (Mills 13). In this quotation, John Stuart Mill quite accurately explains why the rest of the characters see as perfectly normal the situations Antonie Buddenbrook finds herself in. Throughout her life, the cultural norms and laws that regulate her position as a woman trouble Antonie. Antonie is a Millsean example of "The Subjection of Women" as can be shown by looking at her childhood, her marriage both to Grunlich and to Permaneder, and the marriage of her daughter Erika.
As a Buddenbrook, Tony (the nickname used in the book for Antonie) led a privileged childhood. Tony's attitude towards her neighbors was one of condescension to anyone who was not of the same social class. Mann summarizes her opinion as, "Just try and get me in trouble! If you don't happen to know, I am Consul Buddenbrook's daughter" (Mann 62).
Tony's concern about whom she associates with, as a woman of an upper middle-class family, is visible already in her childhood. However, she is at this point free from the obligations that will plague her adult life. Later, it becomes evident that this carefree, privileged childhood was the happiest time in her life, when she did not want to sell the house she grew up in to consul Hagenstrom. She had too many happy childhood memories in that house. As Tony grew to adolescence, Mann writes, "all in all, Tony's adolescence was a happy time" (Mann 88).
The harsh realities of what it mean to be a woman were to come crashing down on Tony later into her teens. She was pressured into a marriage with Grunlich that she did not want. Tony's father wanted the marriage, and as Mill points out, "it was practically impossible for the girl to refuse compliance if the father persevered" (Mill 31). Although he did not actually force her to marry Grunlich, Tony's father put tremendous pressure on her to comply.
Both of Tony's marriages showed her inferior position in society as a woman. Grunlich, although he did not treat her cruelly, had completely control of her life. He did not even allow her to leave the house without him. Mill addresses this: "She [a wife] can do no act whatever but by his [her husband's] permission" (Mill 32). Grunlich's reason for doing this was to prevent her from finding the truth out about him, that he only married her for her money. Mill calls this kind of action, "the scandalous abuse of the marriage institution, which is perpetrated when a man entraps a girl into marrying him without a settlement, for the sole purpose of getting possession of her money," (Mill 50).
Both parents neglected Erika, the child of Tony and Grunlich. Grunlich criticized Tony for not being affectionate towards Erika, and Tony fiercely defended herself. However, it was clear that Tony left Erika with the servants at any opportunity. This goes along with the theory of Mill on the matter: "the general opinion of men is supposed to be, that the natural vocation of a woman is that of a wife and mother. I say supposed to be, because judging from acts--from the whole of the present constitution of society--one might infer that their opinion was the direct contrary. They might be supposed to think that the alleged natural vocation of women was of all things the most repugnant to their nature" (Mill 28).
Although Tony had many servants under her, this did not improve her condition. "A Sultan's favorite slave has slaves under her, over whom she tyrannizes; but the desirable thing would be that she should neither have slaves nor be a slave" (Mill 40-41). Tony was still miserable despite the fact that she was in authority.
However, Consul Buddenbrook, once he realized what a terrible marriage he had put his daughter into, was able to pull her out. It was easier to get a divorce in Germany than it would have been in England, which Mill was writing about, where only Parliament could grant a divorce. In addition, because Grunlich could not provide for his family, Tony had possession of Erika, although Mill emphasizes that usually the case is the opposite. However, Tony's dowry was lost. Mill addresses this as well; "the two are called "one person in law" for the purpose of inferring that whatever is hers is his, but the parallel inference is never drawn that whatever is his is hers" (Mill 33).
Tony's marriage to Permaneder was under much different circumstances. As a middle-aged woman, the pressure to marry Permaneder was not as visible. However, it was there nonetheless. She knew that it was her duty to keep up the appearances of the firm by being married, just as it was Thomas's duty to run the firm. Tony confided to Ida that she knew if she did not do her duty, Tom would be forced to get rid of her, just like Tom got rid of Christian. Tony knew that by being unmarried she had not escaped the authority of men. When she divorced Grunlich, she was under the authority of her father again, and when he died, she was under the authority of Tom.
Tony experienced a whole different set of rules under Permaneder than she did under Grunlich. However, when Permaneder decided to take his early retirement, there was nothing Tony could do about it. When Permaneder suggested his plan, "an argument...unfolded that was so serious and violent that it could only undermine the happiness of any marriage at such an early stage. He remained the victor. Her passionate opposition was crushed beneath his desire for 'takin things easy' " (Mann 357).
Tony's attempts to control Permaneder were unsuccessful. "I grant that the wife, if she cannot effectually resist, can at least retaliate; she, too, can make the man's life extremely uncomfortable, and by that power is able to carry many points which she ought, and many which she ought not, to prevail in" (Mill 39). It seems that Tony tried as hard as she could to use this last defense, but Permaneder was immune to it, as Mill says some men are.
When Tony decided to end the marriage, it was not quite as easy as it was with Grunlich. Because Grunlich had been bankrupt, that provided adequate grounds, but there was no such luck with Permaneder. In this case, Permaneder needed to approve the divorce. It was only Tony's good fortune that he decided to do so.
It is worth noting at this point that although Tony's two marriages both ended in disaster, this needed not be the case. "Men in general do not inflict, nor women suffer, all the misery which could be inflicted and suffered if the full power of tyranny with which the man is legally invested were acted on" (Mill 35). Mann supports Mill's point that the majority of men treat their wives well. Examples of happy marriages in Buddenbrooks vastly outnumber unhappy marriages.
The problems faced by Tony in life as a woman did not end with her, but her daughter, Erika endured them as well. Erika's marriage to Hugo Weinschenk was less than successful. Besides Weinschenk's disgraceful arrest and prison term, he also treated Erika badly. "It is not because a man is not know to have broken any of the Ten Commandments, or because he maintains a respectable character in his dealings with those who are not obliged to bear with him, that is it possible to surmise of what sort his conduct will be in the unrestraint of home. Even the commonest men reserve the violent, the sulky, the undisguised selfish side of their character for those who have no power to withstand it" (Mills 38).
Weinshenk proved to be a tyrant at home, always demanding Erika to be cheerful, even when she did not feel like it. Tony's description of him shows how he can be. "That rough exterior of his has only got rougher. And all the while he gets harsher and harsher in his demands that Erika be cheerful and keep his mind off his worries. He smashes dishes if she's too serious. You have no idea what it's like when he comes home late at night and locks himself up with his papers. And if you knock on the door you can hear him jump to his feet and shout, 'Who's that? What do you want?' " (Mann 536).
In reading Mill, it is easy not to take his arguments seriously because he is outdated. Many of the issues he raises about the subjection of women are no longer relevant. However, comparing it to the issues faced by both Tony and Erika in Buddenbrooks, the points he raises are no longer so distant. It is then easy to see the hardships of being a woman, even an upper middle class woman, in the nineteenth century.
Professor's Comments: You have used some really nice quotations in this essay that illustrate your point. The problem is that the quotation often overwhelms the rest of the paragraph. Many paragraphs include only a sentence into the quotation and a transition. I want more of your analysis.
The essay also doesn't always delve beneath the surface. It talks about the neglect of Tony--What does that mean? What kind of neglect? What does it mean to say that Tony's inferior? What are examples of happy Buddenbrooks marriages? What distinguishes them from Tony's? How is her marriage to Grunlich different from Permaneder? What are the differences between Tony and Erika? In short, examine some of the statements you make in the paper.