Victorian Elements In My Fair Lady

My Local theatre presented a production of the musical "My Fair Lady", which is based around George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion". While watching the musical, one can pick up themes associated with the Victorian era. Many gender, social, and class viewpoints are contained in the story that derived from the prevalent ideologies associated with Victorian life.

My Fair Lady 1
The musical is centered on a bet made by Henry Higgins, who is an English phonetics expert. Higgins meets Colonel Pickering, whom suggests that Higgins cannot make a peasant flower girl with terrible speech speak proper and act like a duchess. Higgins takes on Pickering's bet and then sets out to train the flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, the proper ways of the English. The general plot of the play directly depicts the Victorian view on gender and social class.

A wealthy, educated, Englishman sets out to educate an "underprivileged" member of the lower class. Higgins is the embodiment of the way the upper class viewed the lower class. In whisking up a poor flower girl off of the streets and making a bet to fix her and turn her into a lady, Higgins is viewing her as nothing more than an object and a game. Eliza Doolittle is initially nothing more than a prop for Higgins, an example of how the wealthy perceived the poor.

Eliza Doolittle's father, Alfred Doolittle, eventually interrupts Higgins during the period when he was starting to give Eliza lessons to ask him for money. When her father greets him, he is not curious about her well being or even what it is that she's doing with Henry Higgins. Alfred Doolittle's primary concern is what form of monetary wealth he can obtain from the situation. This is the way the lower class Victorian family life was. They were concerned on what kind of wealth they can obtain due to their low economic status, and will even use their children as a means for making money. The fact that Henry Higgins also pays for the use of Eliza Doolittle is another sign of how the upper class views the lower class. It once again, objectifies them. Alfred Doolittle goes onto spending all of his newly found money on alcohol, depicting how the lower class uses being intoxicated as a way to compensate for their troubles. Henry Higgins and Colonel Pickering also drink, thus displaying that alcohol was also a vice used by the rich during the Victorian Era.

Gender roles in Victorian Society are also clearly defined within the musical. Henry Higgins teaches Eliza Doolittle how to speak and act like a lady, so that he may pass her off as a duchess. The different ways that this is achieved, and the actions that Higgins tells Eliza Doolittle to behave, are models for how upper class women were expected to act and behave during the Victorian era. This is contrasted by how Eliza Doolittle behaved in the beginning of the play. Eliza's early behavior of obnoxious loud ramblings is how the lower class woman is presented. Henry Higgins and Colonel Pickering act as if she's inhuman. Henry Higgins tries to tame her and make her an "angel in the house" by having her act calm and collected, sip tea, and speak when spoken to.

My Fair Lady 2
Higgins buys expensive gowns for Eliza Doolittle to wear, thus showing what kind of dress upper class women are expected to wear. The importance of the way one looks on the exterior rather than the makeup of a person's interior, is a key element of how upper class society perceived ones status. How you are defined is based around the way you dress and your physical outward appearance. This is portrayed when Henry Higgins ends up falling I love with Eliza Doolittle. This love is a sign of the shifts in attitudes based on the way a person is physically, due to the fact that Henry Higgins was originally repulsed by Eliza Doolittle before she became his creation. It also shows male dominance over female dominance, because Eliza Doolittle's personality shifted at the touch of a man. When the bet was over, Eliza explains how she is lost and doesn't know where to go from there. This shows her dependence on a man, which was a Victorian Era concept. A woman was expected to settle down and be with a man and have children. She debates marrying Freddy Eynsford-Hill, a man that she does not even know, due to the fact she feels the need of a man to function within life. She ultimately returns back to Henry Higgins, reinforcing the male as the dominant gender role.