I came to view both of these theories as motivations of the people involved in the histories, rather than theories of History, as to me I think they fail as such. Marxist theory fails as a definitive view of History and not just because we have seen the fall of communism in modern times. It fails because at its core is the belief that communism, in its perfection, will lead to the end of the class struggle for the means of production. And, that History is the class struggle for the means of production.[i] Therefore, History should have ended with the establishment of communist regimes like that of the Soviet Union or China. Obviously that hasn’t happened.
Marxism also fails because it doesn’t account for what Carlyle called the “Chaos of Being”, the confluence of people and events out of an individual’s control.[ii] It does not allow for the individual at all, it assumes that every member of a class thinks and acts in the same way. In simplistic terms it appears to assume that all of the Proletariat are good and all of the Bourgeois are bad. Nor does Marx explain why the Proletariat does not become the Bourgeois once given control over the means of production. Marxist theory as an historical perspective is like looking at History through a rolled up five dollar note, it gives us narrow histories with a single cause. Pieter Geyl illustrates this in his essay about the Tenth International Congress in History 1955 held in Rome. He describes the Soviet Historians’ inability to engage in any other avenue of discourse other than the views of Marx and Engels, thereby limiting their input and contribution to any debate of the time.[iii] They could only see one narrow view.
I think Feminist theory fails for similar reasons. Looking at History from the perspective of the oppression of women alone also produces a narrow History. I grew up as the little sister to the feminist writers of the early 1970s. I wasn’t old enough to have participated in the Women’s Movement but I was one of the first to benefit. I could particularly relate to Ann Summers in Ducks on the Pond as it was set in Adelaide in a place and time that I experienced.[iv] As a theory of study, Feminism has under gone change from a strictly female viewpoint to its eventual morphing into Identity and/or Gender studies; recognising that all sexes have been shaped and moulded by cultural factors and not just misogyny.[v]
I think I see things from a Gender perspective, rather than a ‘battle of the sexes’ stereotype, as we are the result of our cultural and social conditioning, and this conditioning itself is subject to fads and trends.[vi] This is not to deny that the oppression and subjugation of women has occurred throughout history, but it happened to men and children as well.
What I can see from both Marxist and Feminist theory is their influence on the motivations that determine people’s choices in life and contribute to Carlyle’s “Chaos of Being”.[vii] From Marxism is an awareness of the role that money and class play in influencing people’s actions and choices. This will be particularly relevant in the writing about Vauxhall, although for an anachronistic reason, as Vauxhall appears to have been one of the few places of the time that all classes mixed freely together. Of course they had to pay to enter, but all were welcomed, even encouraged. Indeed, the most successful owner of the Gardens, Jonathon Tyres, had attained a better social standing through business acumen and the resultant wealth – a Proletariat that became Bourgeois.[viii]
As for Feminism, I think Gender roles, social expectations, and women’s legal and social rights are at the forefront of my interpretation of the Gardens. But I believe I will approach it from the Gender or Identity aspect rather than a strictly Feminist angle.
[i]Marx, K., Manifesto for the Communist Party. Collected Works Volume 6: Marx & Engels 1845-1848. F. Engels.(1848). Chapt(s) Parts I II IV: 477-506, 518-519.
[ii] Carlyle coins the term “Chaos of Being” for the confluence of people and place to cause events. Stern, F., History as Biography. The Varieties of History: From Voltaire to the Present.(1970) London, Macmillan. Chapt(s): 90-107.
[iii] Pieter Geyl Geyl, P., Soviet Historians make their bow. Encounters in History.(1963) London, Collins. Chapt(s): 263-275.
[iv] Ann Summers Summers, A., Off our Backs. Ducks on the Pond, An Autobiography 1945-1976.(1999) Ringwood. Chapt(s) 11.
[v] Laura Lee Downs Downs, L. L. Writing Gender History.(2004) London. Chapt(s) 7 & 10.
[vi] Laura Lee Downs ibid.
[vii] Stern Stern, F., History as Biography. The Varieties of History: From Voltaire to the Present.(1970) London, Macmillan. Chapt(s): 90-107.
[viii] Jonathon Tyres was an Enlightenment Gentleman who believed in the idea of the upper class being an example for the betterment of the lower classes and as such encouraged all classes to attend the Gardens in the hope that they would all become more genteel and cultured. There are many primary sources to support this; from newspaper clippings through to pamphlets.