Babettes Feast and Other Stories
The Limitations of Women’s Opportunities in “Babette’s Feast”
Throughout the text of “Babette’s Feast,” Martine and Philippa are described only as beautiful and fair, unlike their father who is portrayed as a dean and prophet, acknowledging his accomplishments directly to his worth, where as the sister’s worth is determined solely by their looks. Babette’s feast has many elements of sexism, that causes the two main characters to have a hindered world view. Given a different and more generous set of opportunities than they were, Martine and Phillipa’s lives could have been drastically different.
Achille Papin and Lorens Lowenhielm both exclaimed to have fell deeply in love with the women and upon first glance, wanting to be with them forever, purely based on their appearance and simple mannerisms. This shows just how little men of that time thought of their wives, showing them off as prizes rather than a woman to be respected.“…prizing the maidens far above rubies and had suggested as much to their father.” The Dean describes his daughters as merely an appendage off of him, rather than their own persons. “But the dean had declared that to him in his calling his daughters were his right and left hand.” In this quote, their father means to say that Martine and Philippa are such a large part of his everyday routines, that he would not be able to do it without them. This hinders the women’s ability to leave and start their own lives or families if they wish, because of their father’s need to have them by his side. We see huge examples of sexism here, as the men are able to think and move with much freedom while women are expected to stay where the men want them. Even for those who enjoy or are content being carried along by the men in their lives can never say that for sure because they have never felt life on their own terms. A considerable part of them is taken away and locked in a respectable, makeup covered box that they must carry with them. “And the fair girls had been brought up to an ideal of heavenly love; they were filled with it and did not let themselves be touched by the flames of this world.” Martien and Philippa are only described using kind and fair words throughout the text, focusing more on their beauty than anything else.
The only time any skill of any kind is listed about the sisters, is when Achille Papin arrives and points out Philippa’s beautiful voice. “He did not mention the Opera of Paris, but described at length how beautifully Miss Philippa would come to sing at church, to the glory of God.” When speaking to the Dean, a man of very religious ways, he played on what he knew about him, that he was a man of God and would want nothing more than to please Him however possible. Achille Papin knew that what he spoke of was an offer that the Dean could not refuse; an offer to better his and his daughter’s relationship and connection with their savior. The Dean was a smart man, well educated in many languages and with a wealth of religious as well as academic knowledge, he stood much taller than his daughters, and it can be presumed by the text that he liked it that way. “Their father had been a dean and a prophet, the founder of a pious ecclesiastic party or sect, which was known and looked up to in all the country of Norway.” The women and Norwegian community continue this idea that their father (the Dean) is all knowing and a highly important religious figure, even after he has passed. “His daughters had long been looking forward to this day and had wished to celebrate it, as if their dear father were still among his disciples”. This leaves Martine and Philippa little to no opportunity to make their own decisions, or have their own opinions or careers. They are surrounded by men, who take on a role of power and dominance, most of them decorated in flashy medals, with uniforms covered in perfectly pressed ribbons, proving their value and worth. The sisters grew up with no powerful woman figure, only men who degraded them down to lesser than themselves.
“Babette’s Feast” ultimately shows the sexist world that Martine and Philippa have grown up in, and how the community around them supports these ways. Throughout the text, many examples of this is shown when the sisters are unable to lead their own lives, forced to be at their father’s mercy, even after he is gone. The unfair world view these women have been given is result of years of accomplished men being put before them.