Thus, we can say that motherhood offers Meynell a critical subject to be analyzed within the dynamics of power relations between mother and child. Meynell criticizes the notion of compassion in the second stanza by saying that “A little tenderness” is “The utmost of her meed” (7-8) and she suggests that the only the thing that makes a mother cheerful is a little “affection”.
“The tenderness” is a term generally used by Meynell in order to reflect children’s unique aesthetic sensibility but for her children are not aesthetic objects but they are living subjects. Basically, Meynell plays upon the society’s motherhood so, we see the nine years old boy’s devotion to her mother seems like the most important thing for his mother as she only looks for “gratitude” (9). In the third stanza, Meynell describes the motherhood by saying that “This mother, giver of life, death, peace, distress,” (12) and she demonstrates the notion of motherhood in a broader sense. By being the mother of seven children, Meynell takes the role of maternal observer for children and she tries to show women’s alienation from children both in this poem and the Maternity with the words like “slight, brief caress” (15) and “unhoped, unsought”(6). Considering the beginning of the poem and the child’s overheated “kiss” (1), we can say that the mother stays away from the son with “slight, brief caress” (15). The cultural and historical background of motherhood in Victorian society is important for us to understand Meynell’s aesthetic, modern mothering. In Victorian society, the hidden mothers in Victorian portraits were so popular and it is quite strange that in those pictures the babies or the children were pointed out and mothers generally hidden with a black veil. So, the hierarchy of mother-children relationship has always supported the children and showed the mother in a closed, weak, sentimental way.
Besides, many Victorian women who were thought as “fallen” because of the fact that they were pregnant without having married were forced to leave their children in hospitals when they were babies. This harsh fact of mothers has been pictured many times by important artists. What Meynell tries to do with her poems which include motherhood is to show the importance of mothers and break the aesthetic ideal conventions of floweriness of mothers. As for the literary context of the poem, Coventry Patmore’s Angel in the House published in 1854 gained a great attention as it reflects the Victorian realities of being a woman but also a mother who is ‘angel’, domestic, helpless so to say, like a ‘pet’. Since they had to stay at home and take care of children their main duties were associated with being a mother, therefore, we can say that womanhood was a notion which can be thought as complete when one is a mother. In spite of the fact that Patmore advocates the women all through the poem, he does not explicitly shows his own opinions.
On the other hand, Meynell published The Modern Mother in the year 1990 under the book of Poems in order to break those social realities related to women. Though she was thought as Angel in the House by her peers, Meynell always framed her motherhood while she was writing her works and that’s why her poems are lyric, feminist and socially conscious. To sum up, Meynell as a female aesthete, writer, feminist became the “Poetess of Poets” and was admired by many people. By being one of the female aesthetes, she showed that aestheticism is not a notion only related with physical beauty but it can be related with beauty of nature, love of children and the notion of motherhood. Considering the contexts of the poems and the time period Victorian era, we can clearly say that she reflected the hierarchical position of women in male dominated society. In these poems, she tried to explore motherhood, women’s sphere and female repression.
As Schaffer states, “Meynell was the living proof of the female aesthetes’ theory that New Womanism and traditional femininity could merge seamlessly, that a woman could be ‘a saint and a sibyl smoking a cigarette'”( Schaffer,161). Considering this quote, we can say that The Shepherdess reflects a traditional Victorian nurturer mother while on the other had The Modern Mother can be thought as a distant, unsentimental being.