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Victorian Literature The New Woman
by
Clare Mendes

Introduction

Since the 1970s, interest in the New Woman has flourished threefold, with numerous attempts to capture her complex nature and continue the lively debate that raged in the last decade of the 19th century. The New Woman emerged during a time of great social change, when notions about sexuality and gender had become complicated through increased awareness of homosexuality and the rising number of women who were finally making their voices heard. There has been argument over when the New Woman was officially born, but the general consensus is that it was in 1894, when the social purity feminist and New Woman Sarah Grand and author Ouida wrote about her in the North American Review. The New Woman was imbued with the contradictions of the fin de siècle, at once too sexual and not sexual enough, desiring a single emancipated lifestyle yet advocating eugenic procreation. Although New Women did not necessarily agree upon every aspect, in their writings and through their representations in novels, they did address a number of contentious issues, including the marriage question, maternity, and education for women. The New Woman was a construct in both fiction and the periodical press, attached to journalistic catchphrases such as the “Revolting Daughters,” the “ Shrieking Sisterhood,” and the “Wild Woman.” She was linked to the degeneration of Victorian society and, simultaneously, a regenerative force for women who had spent their lives following patriarchal rule. Numerous female, and indeed male, authors become synonymous with the New Woman novel that was produced amid great controversy. Less canonized female authors included Olive Schreiner, Sarah Grand, and Mona Caird. By the end of the 1890s the New Woman had more or less disappeared. There have been claims that this happened because her desires had been set in motion and there was no longer a need for her didactic and frank address of issues such as education and marriage, of which a review process was beginning. The shock experienced from her “outrageous” opinions at the beginning of the decade was less perceptible as the century drew to an end.

General Overviews

Heilmann 2000 provides a useful introduction to the New Woman figure, asking the complex question “Who or what was the New Woman?” and proceeding to form an answer through the discussion of New Woman fiction, examining it in terms of first-wave and second-wave feminism. Pykett 1992 acknowledges the way sensationalist and New Woman fiction of the latter part of the 19th century had fallen out of public view until their resurgence in 1970; Pykett’s study shows that they occupied an important space in both the cultural and literary world. Showalter 1984, a groundbreaking examination of women’s writing from the well-known, such as Brontë, to those who have not been considered among the “great” female writers, looks at the late-19th-century feminists and their contribution to women’s writing. The genesis of the New Woman is a regularly disputed issue, and Jordan 1983 provides an interesting discussion of when the New Woman was first named. Cunningham 1973 considers the female New Women writers whose names have been largely forgotten. Cunningham provides a picture of the circumstances leading to New Woman fiction, citing Henrik Ibsen’s influential English production of A Doll’s House in 1889 as the point where writers began more fervently to take up the woman’s cause in their work. Murphy 2001 takes an innovative approach to gender and the New Woman by focusing on the Victorian’s obsession with time. Ardis 1990 argues that New Women fiction takes part in an intertextual debate, an aspect that the writers were aware of and refused to disregard. Dowling 1979 considers the link between the major degenerative forces in 1890s society: the decadent dandy and the New Woman. Dowling claims that the Victorians believed that the decadent was new and the New Woman decadent. Ledger 1997 is a fantastic study of the New Woman, providing a broad yet detailed picture of the different realms in which the New Woman was involved, considering the New Woman and socialism, the relationship of feminism to imperialism, and lesbian identity, among other fascinating topics.

  • Ardis, Ann L. New Women, New Novels: Feminism and Early Modernism. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1990.

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    Identifies three aspects of New Women fiction that have previously been overlooked: its intertextuality, its self-consciousness, and the way in which it subverts traditional ideas of culture and art.

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  • Cunningham, A. R. “The ‘New Woman Fiction’ of the 1890’s.” Victorian Studies 17.2 (December 1973): 177–186.

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    Distinguishes two types of New Women: the less radical “purity school” and the more sensitive “slight, pale ‘bachelor’ girl,” more aware of feminine psychology. Discusses authors whose writing fits into these categories with Sarah Grand, “Iota,” and Grant Allen in the former; and Mona Caird, George Egerton, Emma Frances Brooke, and Ménie Muriel Dowie in the latter.

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  • Dowling, Linda. “The Decadent and the New Woman in the 1890s.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 33.4 (March 1979): 434–453.

    DOI: 10.1525/ncl.1979.33.4.99p0041aSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Although contemporary criticism views the New Woman and the dandy as oppositions to each other, the Victorians persistently associated the two figures, both perceived as a threat to society.

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  • Heilmann, Ann. New Woman Fiction: Women Writing First-Wave Feminism. Basingstoke, UK, and New York: Macmillan, 2000.

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    Takes a historical approach in the first two chapters, looking at feminist and socialist theory in conjunction with New Woman fiction. The second half adopts close readings of the texts, such as Sarah Grand’s The Heavenly Twins and Lady Florence Dixie’s Gloriana, considering the ways that issues such as marriage are dealt with. Includes a list of abbreviations for New Women novels.

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  • Jordan, Ellen. “The Christening of the New Woman: May 1894.” Victorian Newsletter 63 (1983): 19–21.

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    While by 1893 characteristics of the New Woman had been firmly cast in the writing of George Egerton, George Gissing, Iota, and Emma Frances Brooke, she was still missing a name. Although there were a number of attempts to attach a title, such as “Wild Women,” it was not until Grand’s 1894 article that she was named.

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  • Ledger, Sally. The New Woman: Fiction and Feminism at the Fin de Siècle. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1997.

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    Includes a lengthy first chapter examining the New Woman and who she was, providing definitions from various New Woman scholars.

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  • Murphy, Patricia. Time Is of the Essence: Temporality, Gender, and the New Woman. Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001.

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    Examines the writings of Olive Schreiner, Sarah Grand, Mona Caird, Thomas Hardy, and H. Rider Haggard, discussing late-19th-century concerns about gender in their novels and its relationship to discourses of time.

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  • Pykett, Lyn. The “Improper” Feminine: The Women’s Sensation Novel and the New Woman Writing. London: Routledge, 1992.

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    The last third of the book focuses on the New Woman, examining the dominant feminist concerns of marriage and maternity, as well as women’s writing. Produces a close study of several New Women novels, including Ménie Muriel Dowie’s Gallia and Sarah Grand’s The Heavenly Twins.

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  • Showalter, Elaine. A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Brontë to Lessing. London: Virago, 1984.

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    Split into three phases: “feminine,” “feminist,” and “female.” The “feminist” phase scrutinizes New Women novelists, devoting part of the chapter to short-story writer George Egerton. Provides insight into the contradictions of New Women ideologies, at once believing in the maternal instinct yet disgusted by sex.

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Reference Works

With many texts and journal articles now digitized, internet sources are an important source for New Woman studies. As well as an abundance of books on the New Woman, the British Library also offers help for researchers with a guide to reference sources for women and gender studies. By typing in the search term “New Women,” readers can find a list of key texts to get started with their research. The Latchkey is an invaluable resource for New Women studies. It examines both the writings and the lives of New Women figures and looks at New Woman representations in literature, culture, and society. It also looks at the New Woman across different countries and disciplines. Late Victorian Women’s Literature is a place for scholars of this period and those with a general interest in the women in the late Victorian period to share ideas, book recommendations, or any other relevant details that may be of appeal.

Edited Collections

The various essay collections on New Women add to a rich debate that has been renewed since the emergence of second-wave feminism in 1970. Richardson and Willis 2002 brings together a number of useful essays on the New Woman, including work by renowned New Women critics Ann Ardis, Ann Heilmann, Gail Cunningham, and Sally Ledger. In its wide range of topics, this volume demonstrates the dynamism present in current New Woman scholarship. From female actresses and medical discourse to feminist utopias and the reconstruction of masculinity, Richardson and Willis have collected a vital source for continued debate on the New Woman. Heilmann and Beetham 2004 considers the application of the postcolonial term hybridity to the New Woman. With its suggestions of unfixed identities, hybridities is a particularly apt term for an individual whose very existence was so often disputed. Heilmann and Beetham’s work provides a “new” perspective on the hybrid nature of the New Woman by taking an international approach. Their collection of essays situates the New Woman in a wide range of locations, such as Wales, Japan, Hungary, America, Ireland, and Germany, offering important insight into cultural variations across countries and the ways they dealt with women. Heilmann 2003, a collection of feminist forerunners, profiles fifteen first-wave feminists. The essays in Purdue and Floyd 2009 look at issues as diverse as the New Woman and Darwinism to sports for females and the gender tensions present at the end of the 19th century.

  • Heilmann, Ann, ed. Feminist Forerunners: New Womanism and Feminism in the Early Twentieth Century. Chicago: Pandora, 2003.

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    Illustrates that the New Woman was not just a white middle-class affair by focusing on women from other backgrounds, including the African American journalist Pauline Hopkins and Mexican American author Maria Cristina Mena. Also includes an essay on the transatlantic alliance between American Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Briton Vernon Lee.

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  • Heilmann, Ann, and Margaret Beetham, eds. New Woman Hybridities: Femininity, Feminism and International Consumer Culture, 1880–1930. Routledge Transatlantic Perspectives on American Literature 1. London: Routledge, 2004.

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    Composed of four major sections. Part 1 explores the New Woman’s hybrid nature, considering ethnic and national instabilities. Part 2 looks at periodical press representations of the New Woman. Part 3 focuses on communities of women and how they subverted patriarchal rule by establishing new spaces. Part 4 examines racial discourses in the New Woman debate.

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  • Purdue, Melissa, and Stacey Floyd, eds. New Woman Writers, Authority and the Body. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2009.

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    Two essays on the less-studied work of George Egerton, including her short story printed in the Yellow Book and her unsuccessful novel The Wheel of God. Two essays on the work of Mona Caird, with a focus on her relationship to Darwinism and a study of her views of violence on women’s bodies.

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  • Richardson, Angelique, and Chris Willis, eds. The New Woman in Fiction and Fact: Fin de Siècle Feminisms. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.

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    Several essays in this book are modified versions of papers presented at the 1998 New Woman Conference at the Institute for English Studies, University of London. The introduction provides a contextual background on the New Woman, while the foreword by Lyn Pykett questions New Women’s very existence.

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Anthologies

Primary representations of the New Woman provide a sense of the attitudes that surrounded her. These are most readily available in anthologies of articles whose original source can be difficult to track down. Anthologies are a valuable resource on the New Woman, with a good deal of these authors out of print. They provide a more substantial outlook on the phenomenon by allowing access to the most obscure of writings.

Fiction

Ann Heilmann has produced a series titled The Late-Victorian Marriage Question, with two volumes focusing on New Woman fiction. Heilmann 1998a looks at marriage, motherhood, and work, including extracts from Grand’s The Heavenly Twins and Ideala, Ella Hepworth Dixon’s The Story of a Modern Woman, and Emma Frances Brooke’s A Superfluous Woman. The series categorizes the novels under headings such as “Sisterhood,” “Education and Work,” and “Mother-Daughter Relationships,” which offers a lens on the concerns that the novels are addressing. Heilmann 1998b focuses on gender and sexuality, considering topics such as gender socialization, female sexuality, antifeminism, and feminist utopia, and identifying the New Woman authors whose works broached such topics. The short stories of George Egerton are classified under several topics, including gender socialization and female sexuality, while Olive Schreiner’s allegoric short pieces, such as “Three Dreams in a Desert,” encapsulate the theme of feminist utopia. Jump 1998, an anthology of short stories by 19th-century woman writers, covers the entire century, with a number of New Women authors appearing in the last decade. Here she gives room to a genre that is often overlooked in favor of the more vigorously researched New Woman novel. Jump includes stories by authors such as George Egerton, Vernon Lee, Ella Hepworth Dixon, and Menie Muriel Dowie. Showalter 1993 contains twenty of the most groundbreaking short stories that bridge the gap between the 19th and 20th centuries and provide a broad view of the fiction by New Women writers. In the introduction to Richardson 2006, Angelique Richardson brings the New Woman out of Britain by considering the transatlantic New Woman; she also examines the impact of science on womanhood and the genesis of the short-story form. Nelson 2001 contains a range of New Women material, including fiction and nonfiction. Weintraub 1964, a collection of Yellow Book stories, represents a number of New Women writers whose innovative approaches to writing reflected aptly the aesthetic ethos of the magazine’s fiction editor, Henry Harland.

  • Heilmann, Ann, ed. The Late-Victorian Marriage Question: A Collection of Key New Woman Texts. Vol. 3, New Women Fiction (1): Marriage, Motherhood and Work. History of Feminism. London: Routledge/Thoemmes, 1998a.

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    In her introduction, Heilmann claims that feminist writers of the late-Victorian period created a “gynocentric genre,” in which their ideas could be made available to a wider audience of readers.

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  • Heilmann, Ann, ed. The Late-Victorian Marriage Question: A Collection of Key New Woman Texts. Vol. 4, New Women Fiction (2): Gender and Sexuality. History of Feminism. London: Routledge/Thoemmes, 1998b.

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    Contains a useful introduction to the texts in which Heilmann provides a context for New Women literature, with Schreiner’s The Story of an African Farm serving as a basis for many of the themes in New Women literature, such as the revision of gender roles, a reappraisal of the family unit, and the concept of female madness.

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  • Jump, Harriet Devine, ed. Nineteenth-Century Short Stories by Women: A Routledge Anthology. London: Routledge, 1998.

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    Starting at 1804, Jump’s anthology includes a number of more obscure women writers from the 19th century. More than half of these writers appear during the 1890s, indicating the increasing popularity of the short-story form. Jump provides an interesting introduction about the development of the short-story form, which occurred in conjunction with the increased popularity of literary magazines.

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  • Nelson, Carolyn Christensen, ed. A New Woman Reader: Fiction, Articles and Drama of the 1890s. Peterborough, ON: Broadview, 2001.

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    Part 1 focuses on short stories by New Women including those of George Egerton, Sarah Grand, Mabel E. Wotton, and Netta Syrett. Part 3 is dedicated to drama, including Sidney Grundy’s comedic play The New Woman.

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  • Richardson, Angelique. Women Who Did: Stories by Men and Women, 1890–1914. London: Penguin Classics, 2006.

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    Includes a chronology of cultural, political, and social events in Britain and America from 1875 to 1928, which ends with the universal suffrage of women.

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  • Showalter, Elaine, ed. Daughters of Decadence: Women Writers of the Fin-de-Siècle. London: Virago, 1993.

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    Contains stories from well-known New Women writers such as George Egerton, Ada Leverson, and Olive Schreiner, as well as the more obscure Mabel E. Wotton, Charlotte Mew, and George Fleming. The introduction provides important background information on the evolution of the short story and the importance of rereading New Women texts.

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  • Weintraub, Stanley, ed. The Yellow Book: Quintessence of the Nineties. New York: Anchor, 1964.

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    Although Weintraub’s selection of stories originated in The Yellow Book, they include a number of New Women authors, known for their contribution to the avant-garde publication, including Charlotte Mew and Ella D’Arcy, the latter serving as an assistant editor for the periodical.

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Nonfiction

The following anthologies are composed of New Women articles and nonfiction writing. The Gardiner 1993 collection of fiction and nonfiction is a great survey of the plethora of material written about and by New Women. The texts range from periodical, novel, and play excerpts to poems, correspondence, and diaries and feature well-known authors such as Grant Allen and Marie Corelli as well as strongly feminist campaigners such as Millicent Garret Fawcett and antifeminists such as Arabella Kenealy. Hamilton 2004 reprints a number of works related to the New Woman, including antifeminist Eliza Lynn Linton’s polemical “Wild Women” essays and similarly minded Margaret Oliphant’s piece titled “The Grievances of Women.” On the other side of the scale is the work of feminist-minded Millicent Garret Fawcett, “The Emancipation of Women,” as well as New Woman novelist Mona Caird’s infamous essay “Marriage.” In the introduction to her anthology, Jump 1999 discusses the way in which writing of the 1890s was influenced by the figure of the New Woman. Her collection includes some of the less didactic works:literary reviews, religious discussions, and travel writing, including that by the New Woman author Ménie Muriel Dowie. This broadens the reader’s perspective on the writing available at the end of the century and the kinds of works that would have influenced New Women supporters and detractors. The first volume of The Late-Victorian Marriage Question series (Heilmann 1998a) looks at marriage and motherhood, including Mona Caird’s infamous essay “The Morality of Marriage,” as well as Harry Quilter’s editorial “Is Marriage a Failure?” Following these central texts is a series of responses by contemporary critics and journalists with the well-known “Wild Women” texts by Eliza Lynn Linton as well as input from the feminist periodical Shafts and the mainstream journal the Fortnightly Review. The second volume of Heilmann’s series (Heilmann 1998b) looks at the New Woman and female independence and splits the texts into two parts: “The Debate between Feminists, Traditionalists and Anti-Feminists,” and “The New Woman.” In the first part, she includes texts that uphold marriage ideals, contain progressive male views, and oppose divorce. In the second, she looks at texts in which the New Woman opposes the old woman, the celebration of the New Woman, and the infamous revolt of the daughters. Ledger and Luckhurst 2000 includes a chapter on the New Woman, composed of extracts from articles that relate to her. While Parts 1 and 3 of Nelson 2001 focus on the fictional aspects of New Women writing, Part 2 provides articles from various publications such as Punch and Blackwood’s.

  • Gardiner, Juliet, ed. The New Woman: Women’s Voices, 1880–1918. London: Collins & Brown, 1993.

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    Usefully divided into chapters such as “Working Lives” and “A New Map of Marriage,” with an introduction for each section. The writing is from 1880 to the end of the World War II. Contains a list of writers and periodicals featured at the beginning of the book.

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  • Hamilton, Susan, ed. Criminals, Idiots, Women, and Minors. 2d ed. New York: Broadview, 2004.

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    Arranged by author, listed chronologically. At the end of the essay or set of essays by each author is a useful biographical note. Includes a chronology at the beginning, charting the reforms and movements related to women, starting with the 1832 First Reform Act and ending on 1928 when women over the age of 21 gained the franchise.

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  • Heilmann, Anne, ed. The Late-Victorian Marriage Question: A Collection of Key New Woman Texts. Vol. 1. “Marriage and Motherhood.” History of Feminism. London: Routledge/Thoemmes, 1998a.

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    Provides a general introduction in which the New Woman is considered in terms of a social phenomenon, in terms of the debate she produced, in terms of the fiction she wrote, and in terms of the themes she engendered, such as marriage, motherhood, and sexuality.

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  • Heilmann, Anne, ed. The Late-Victorian Marriage Question: A Collection of Key New Woman Texts. Vol. 2. The New Woman and Female Independence. History of Feminism. London: Routledge/Thoemmes, 1998b.

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    Contains Sarah Grand’s polemical “The New Aspect of the Woman Question,” as well as its counterargument by Ouida, “The New Woman.” Both essential starting texts for New Woman scholars.

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  • Jump, Harriet Devine. Women’s Writing of the Victorian Period 1837–1901: An Anthology. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999.

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    Set out using the publication dates for each essay. Includes a number of extracts from relevant essays written at the end of the 19th century, such as Sarah Grand’s “The Modern Man and Maid” and Mona Caird’s “The Morality of Marriage.” Includes biographical notes on authors featured at the end of the book.

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  • Ledger, Sally, and Roger Luckhurst. “The New Woman.” In The Fin de Siècle: A Reader in Cultural History c. 1880–1900. By Sally Ledger, and Roger Luckhurst, 75–96. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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    General introduction on the New Woman followed by extracts from several primary-source articles, including Mona Caird’s “Marriage,” the Cornhill Magazine’s “Character Note,” and Millicent Garrett Fawcett’s “The Appeal Against Female Suffrage: A Reply.”

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  • Nelson, Carolyn Christensen, ed. A New Woman Reader: Fiction, Articles and Drama of the 1890s. Peterborough, ON: Broadview, 2001.

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    Includes Sarah Grand’s seminal piece “The New Aspect of the Woman Question.”

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Periodicals

It is impossible to study the New Woman without also studying her in the medium in which she first appeared: the periodical press. It was here that she found her voice and here that she was consistently repudiated. There has been a recent upsurge of work that looks at 19th-century media representations of the New Woman, with a number of academics devoted to the study of the New Woman in the late-Victorian periodical. Most notable is the extensive and groundbreaking work of Margaret Beetham, whose interests lie in the woman’s periodical and the influence of New Journalism on women in the press. Beetham 1996 charts the history of female periodicals from the beginning of the 19th century, when the woman’s magazine was created, into the early 20th century, when images of domesticity were being reconstructed. In her study “Periodicals and the New Media,” Beetham 2006 examines both the growth of the periodical press from the mid- to late 19th century and the expansion of the Internet at the turn of the 21st century, looking at their influences on representations of women. Ballaster, et al. 1991 locates the woman’s magazine as a subject for analysis and criticism among feminists and consciousness-raising awareness groups. Beetham and Boardman 2001 acknowledges the difficulty of accessing 19th-century periodicals, with many considered unimportant and lost or thrown away. Even with the preservation of magazines comes the problem of misrepresentation through binding, which loses elements such as advertisements and front covers. Beetham and Boardman’s anthology removes some of this difficulty of access by producing a wide range of material on women’s magazines. Doughan 1989 splits women’s periodicals into three categories: commercial, political, and organizational. Doughan also considers women’s contributions to the general periodical. Fraser, et al. 2003 employs a chronological approach to gain a sense of the developments within the press and its intertextual nature. The book uses themes rather than individual case studies. Liggins 2007 argues that the launch of new women’s magazines in the 1890s coincided with the increasing number of women whose interests were in education and work and who were moving away from the marriage and household spheres, becoming part of this new breed of “bachelor girl.” Hughes 1996 focuses on the female poet Graham R. Tomson, considering Tomson’s role as editor for Sylvia’s Journal. The essay provides an essential perspective on the female editor, an intriguing figure within feminist studies. An introduction to 19th-century women and periodicals, in a special edition of the Victorian Periodicals Review journal, Trela 1996 argues that women, although involved in the editorial process, never became editors of the big periodicals such as the Westminster Quarterly, with their success dependent on masculine authority. However, the 1890s were starting to see a change in this standard.

  • Ballaster, Ros, Margaret Beetham, Elizabeth Frazer, and Sandra Hebron. Women’s Worlds: Ideology, Femininity and the Woman’s Magazine. Women in Society. London: Macmillan, 1991.

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    Includes a chapter on 19th-century women’s magazines, examining the making of the female reader, the ladies’ and domestic magazines, and focusing in particular on the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine.

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  • Beetham, Margaret. A Magazine of Her Own? Domesticity and Desire in the Woman’s Magazine, 1800–1914. London: Routledge, 1996.

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    Examines the way women’s magazines used images and a variety of writing mediums to produce images of womanhood using a case-study approach. Parts 3 and 4 in particular explore the periodical of the late 19th century and its relation to the New Woman and new press.

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  • Beetham, Margaret. “Periodicals and the New Media: Women and the Imagined Communities.” Women’s Studies International Forum 29 (2006): 231–240.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.wsif.2006.04.002Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines women during two developments in the media at the turn of the century. The first section in particular looks at periodical press’s growth during the late 19th century, considering the place of gender in the 19th-century periodical press.

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  • Beetham, Margaret, and Kay Boardman, eds. Victorian Women’s Magazines: An Anthology. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2001.

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    Includes images of magazine covers and advertisements. Excludes specialist publications such as those printed for suffrage societies. Split into two parts, with the first using the categorizations of types of magazines, such as “the fashion magazine” and “the religious magazine,” and the second using subheadings to indicate the content found in these magazines, such as “discursive prose,” “poetry,” and “competitions.” Includes extracts from the magazines.

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  • Doughan, David. “British Women’s Serials.” In Victorian Periodicals: A Guide to Research. Vol. 2. Edited by J. Don Vann and Rosemary T. Van Arsdel, 67–73. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1989.

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    Features a section on finding aids and indexes for women’s magazines, including addresses of various libraries that hold the magazines and details of the libraries, such as whether there is a need for a reader ticket and the best times to visit.

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  • Fraser, Hilary, Stephanie Green, and Judith Johnston, eds. Gender and the Victorian Periodical. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

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    Includes a particularly interesting chapter titled “Feminism and the Press,” in which periodical representations of feminism are examined to shed light on the way in which women used the magazines as a political and social tool.

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  • Hughes, Linda K. “A Female Aesthete at the Helm: Sylvia’s Journal and ‘Graham R. Tomson,’ 1893–1894.” Victorian Periodicals Review 29.2 (Summer 1996): 173–192.

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    Considers the contradictory implications attached to the term “female aesthete,” with aesthete referring to a commitment to the arts and female referring to domestic duties.

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  • Emma Liggins. “‘The Life of a Bachelor Girl in the Big City’: Selling the Single Lifestyle to Readers of Woman and the Young Woman in the 1890s.” Victorian Periodicals Review 40.3 (Fall 2007): 216–238.

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    Focuses on representations of the bachelor girl in the female periodicals, Woman and the Young Woman, arguing that neither alienated the homemaker in the way more radical publications such as Shafts and Woman’s Signal did.

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  • D. J. Trela. “Introduction: Nineteenth Century Women and Periodicals.” Special Issue, Victorian Periodicals Review 29.2 (Summer 1996): 89–94.

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    Contends that women who struck out on their own were more successful within journalism.

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Feminist Periodicals

In contemporary New Woman criticism, there has also been a particular, but rarer, focus on the feminist magazines, an area of interest that is continuing to expand. As an invaluable starting point, Doughan and Sanchez 1987 produces a helpful resource for the study of women’s periodicals, in particular the feminist periodical. Levine 1990 acknowledges the significance of the Victorian periodical press in contemporary study, yet claims that the way in which women put this medium to use has not yet been exploited in current criticism. Although this view can now be contested with the extended studies of Beetham, at the time when Levine wrote this essay, and still to an extent today, the existence of the New Women in female periodicals still needed to be fully understood. Beaumont 2006, a study of the pro–New Woman journal Shafts, one of the few extended studies of this particular periodical, is concerned with the magazine’s ethos of knowledge and the importance of the diffusion of information for its editor Margaret Shurmer Sibthorp. Youngkin 2005, too, looks at the female editor, in a study of Henrietta Stannard, who edited her magazine The Golden Gates between 1891 and 1895.

  • Beaumont, Matthew. “Influential Force: Shafts and the Diffusion of Knowledge at the Fin de Siècle.” 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century 3 (2006).

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    Starts his discussion of Shafts with a detailed examination of the front cover, assessing the cover of the first edition and how the image developed almost two months later. Available online.

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  • Doughan, David, and Denise Sanchez. Feminist Periodicals, 1855–1984: An Annotated Critical Bibliography of British, Irish, Commonwealth and International Titles. Sussex, UK: Harvester, 1987.

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    Lists periodicals in chronological order, including alternative titles, the editor of the periodical, the publisher, the frequency of the publication, whether it was continued in another format or merged with another publication, its location, and its availability on microfilm.

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  • Levine, Philippa. “‘The Humanising Influences of Five O’Clock Tea’: Victorian Feminist Periodicals.” Victorian Studies 33.2 (1990): 293–306.

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    Argues that despite the short-lived nature of many of the feminist periodicals, they were still an important phenomenon in the periodical press, with the creation of the women’s press strongly asserting the woman’s voice and the issues with which she was dealing.

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  • Youngkin, Molly. “‘Independent in Thought and Expression, Kindly and Tolerant in Tone’: Henrietta Stannard, Golden Gates, and Gender Controversies in Fin-de-Siècle Periodicals.” Victorian Periodicals Review 38.3 (Fall 2005): 307–329.

    DOI: 10.1353/vpr.2005.0038Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that the study of Stannard’s editorship reveals a number of perspectives related to women’s rights. Charts the development of Stannard’s magazine, Golden Gates, beginning rather conservatively and gradually becoming more involved in feminist debate.

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The New Woman Novel

There are a number of novels linked to the New Woman movement, such as Mona Caird’s The Daughters of Danaus, Grant Allen’s The Woman Who Did, and Ella Hepworth Dixon’s The Story of a Modern Woman. As a result of these new and experimental writing styles, numerous studies of the New Woman novel have emerged over the years. Youngkin 2007 claims that the New Woman novel was inextricably linked to press coverage. In her study she examines the way feminist journals such as Shafts and The Woman’s Herald produced a feminist realism through literary reviews of authors such as Grand and Caird. Cunningham 1978 posits that the emergence of the New Woman phenomenon coincides with a growing interest in the woman question among novelists. Cunningham looks at those novelists considered minor today, such as Grand, Egerton, and Caird, whose work subverted idealized Victorian femininity, to gain a sense of the themes broached, before looking at how major novelists such as Hardy, Meredith, and Gissing responded to these tropes in their literature. In an extended study of George Gissing’s 1894 novel In the Year of the Jubilee, Youngkin 2004 examines Gissing’s representation of women’s agency, an area Youngkin claims has been overlooked, yet is an integral aspect of the book. She continues to link the New Woman novel to contemporary women’s magazines to illustrate the way women’s agency was acknowledged culturally. Kranidis 1995 is also keen for her study to take cultural roots, assessing the late-Victorian feminist novel in terms of an appropriate context by considering aesthetics and subjectivity. Kranidis looks at modes of production and ideologies of the author. Stubbs 1979 contains an interesting chapter on the New Woman short story.

  • Cunningham, Gail. The New Woman and the Victorian Novel. (London: Macmillan, 1978.

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    Looking at the work of both “major” and “minor” New Women novelists, Cunningham extends and contextualizes her study by considering the way New Woman ideas were treated in earlier Victorian fiction to gain a sense of the “revolution” of New Women literature.

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  • Kranidis, Rita. Subversive Discourse: The Cultural Production of Late Victorian Feminist Novels. New York: St. Martin’s, 1995.

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    Focuses on late-Victorian novels written by women’s rights activists and on issues surrounding women’s rights

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  • Stubbs, Patricia. Women and Fiction: Feminism and the Novel 1880–1920. Brighton, UK: Harvester, 1979.

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    Includes a chapter on the rejection of realism, in which there is an extended study of the stories of George Egerton and Olive Schreiner.

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  • Youngkin, Molly. “‘All She Knew Was, That She Wished to Live’: Late-Victorian Realism, Liberal-Feminist Ideals, and George Gissing’s In the Year of the Jubilee.” Studies in the Novel 36.1 (Spring 2004): 56–78.

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    Applies the narrative structure of internal perspective, dialogue, and descriptions of actions to George Gissing’s In the Year of the Jubilee.

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  • Youngkin, Molly. Feminist Realism at the Fin de Siècle: The Influence of the Late-Victorian Woman’s Press on the Development of the Novel. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2007.

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    Looks at the evolution of the Victorian novel into the modern novel and the influence of the press on this development. Focuses on three aspects of women’s agency: consciousness, speech, and action, as well as the way that these are emphasized by narrative strategies: internal perspective, dialogue, and descriptions of protagonist actions.

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Authors

Examinations of New Woman authors tend to appear in the form of journal essays and within chapters of general studies on the New Woman. It is rare to find a whole book devoted to one New Woman writer, although there are biographies on writers such as Sarah Grand and Olive Schreiner, as well as extended studies of the writings of Ella D’Arcy. Heilmann’s book on Grand, Schreiner, and Caird (Heilmann 2004) illustrates the existence of a polyphonic structure within and between the writing of late-19th-century women who broached often-similar subject matter, dealing with it in diverse and idiosyncratic ways. Her choice of these three authors is significant in that their writing was reprinted during the last feminist surge.

  • Heilmann, Anne. New Woman Strategies: Sarah Grand, Olive Schreiner, Mona Caird. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2004.

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    Focusing on the three major advocates of New Woman writing, Heilmann explores the way Grand, Schreiner, and Caird transformed Victorian literary culture by feminizing and drawing on traditional elements that used narrational techniques such as allegory and myth.

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Mona Caird

Mona Caird wrote with great passion on the subject of women’s rights, in particular on the topics of marriage and childcare. Her series of antimarriage essays in the Daily Telegraph, titled “Is Marriage a Failure,” identified her as a notorious New Woman and perpetuated a most lively, often controversial debate during the 1880s and 1890s. She argued that the institution of marriage was based on the woman’s economic dependence, restricting both sexes. Her article“Marriage” appeared in the Westminster Review in 1888. Her essays were collected in The Morality of Marriage (1897). She also penned several novels, including The Wings of Azrael (1889), followed by A Romance of the Moors (1891), and her best-known work, The Daughters of Danaus (1894). Dudley’s website on Caird is a good place to start for an introduction to the author and her writing. Surridge 2005 discusses The Daughters of Danaus, considering the characters’ relationships to time and history and the way in which patriarchy depended on an old order. Heilman 1996 argues that the theories found in Caird’s work can be related to those found in second-wave feminism, thus identifying her as a radical and forward-thinker. Forward 2000 considers the significance of the color yellow in the 1890s, a period nicknamed the “yellow nineties,” by focusing in particular on the way Caird’s “The Yellow Drawing Room” continued the themes that preoccupied New Women, such as the concept of hysteria, which many men used to constrict women.

Ella D’Arcy

Ella D’Arcy was a prolific short-story writer, and her often masculine-narrated tales are collected in two volumes, Monochromes (1895) and Modern Instances (1898). She also published the novel The Bishop’s Dilemma in1898. As the unofficial assistant editor of Henry Harland’s periodical The Yellow Book, D’Arcy found herself working in an industry that, although beginning to include women, was still very much male-led. Windholz 1996 emphasizes this, using D’Arcy’s epistles to gain insight into her feeling about working in a largely masculine environment composed of Henry Harland, Aubery Beardsley, and John Lane. Windholz suggests that despite its inclusion of numerous female New Women writers, the offices of the Yellow Book would always be a place where the male had the last editorial word. Although no full-scale biography of D’Arcy exists yet, Fisher has written a good deal about her, editing her letters. In a short piece reminiscing about her, Fisher 1994 describes her “observant mind” and her “captivating short stories.” In Fisher 1995 article, he specifies the reasons for D’Arcy’s obscurity today, among them that much of her magazine writing has become difficult to track down. He believes that knowledge about her American readership will shed light on issues surrounding her status. Anderson’s reproduction of D’Arcy’s letters to John Lane (D’Arcy 1990) generates invaluable insight into D’Arcy’s journalistic and writerly concerns.

  • D’Arcy, Ella. Some Letters to John Lane. Edited by Alan Anderson. Edinburgh: Tragara, 1990.

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    Reprints fourteen of D’Arcy’s original letters in which she details Beardsley’s dismissal from the Yellow Book, discusses other writers such as Netta Syrett and Gertrude Dix, and remarks on John Lane’s “Keynotes” series. Provides a useful biographical background to D’Arcy’s work in the introduction.

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  • Fisher, Benjamin F. “Ella D’Arcy Reminisces.” English Literature in Transition 1880–1920 37.1 (1994): 28–32.

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    A concise introduction to D’Arcy’s “Yellow Book Celebrities,” which follows the article, an original reproduction of D’Arcy’s text. Fisher briefly discusses D’Arcy’s involvement in the Yellow Book and her relationship to its celebrities.

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  • Fisher, Benjamin F. “The American Reception of Ella D’Arcy.” Victorian Periodicals Review 28.3 (Fall 1995): 232–248.

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    The first investigation into D’Arcy’s reception in America, Fisher’s essay produces a survey of American reviews on D’Arcy’s work, including comments from the Chicago Tribune, the Buffalo Commercial, and the Springfield Republican.

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  • Windholz, Anne M. “The Woman Who Would Be Editor: Ella D’Arcy and the Yellow Book.” Victorian Periodicals Review 29.2 (Summer 1996): 116–130.

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    A fascinating portrayal of D’Arcy’s experiences as the female assistant editor of the Yellow Book, with a focus on her letters to John Lane, which offer a more reliable account.

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Ella Hepworth Dixon

Ella Hepworth Dixon was a travel writer, short story author, and novelist. She had a prolific career as a journalist, writing a regular column in the Ladies’ Pictorial, working as an art critic for the Westminster Gazette, editing the Englishwoman, and writing a number of short stories for the Yellow Book. She also contributed to the Ladies’ Field and Pall Mall Gazette and was offered the position of editor of the Woman’s World by Oscar Wilde in 1888, which she accepted. Her short stories were collected in One Doubtful Hour and Other Sidelights on the Feminine Temperament in 1904. There was little written on Dixon during the 1990s, save for entries in British literary encyclopedias and introductions to her novels. Flint’s introduction to the Merlin edition of The Story of a Modern Woman (Dixon 1990) includes a particularly useful background. Fehlbaum 2005 produces the first in-depth study of Ella Hepworth Dixon, including a list of the periodicals in which her stories and essays were published as well as a record of the writing of Dixon’s sister Marion Hepworth Dixon, herself a great contributor to women’s turn-of-the-century writing. Williams 2002 claims that both Dixon’s The Story of a Modern Woman and George Gissing’s The Odd Woman were located in London suburbs, the middle-class location for the first surge of the Women’s Movement. She argues that the tensions between solidarity and elitism in the two novels are related to their location in the suburbs.

  • Dixon, Ella Hepworth. The Story of a Modern Woman. London: Merlin, 1990.

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    Kate Flint writes an introductory essay for this edition which provides a biographical account of Dixon’s work, one of the few written before Fehlbaum’s extended study (Fehlbaum 2005). First published in 1894 (London: Heinemann).

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  • Fehlbaum, Valerie. Ella Hepworth Dixon: The Story of a Modern Woman. Nineteenth Century. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2005.

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    Chapter 2, “Ella Hepworth Dixon and the New Woman,” provides particularly detailed and intriguing documentation of Dixon’s involvement in the New Women periodical press debate.

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  • Williams, Erin. “Female Celibacy in the Fiction of Gissing and Dixon: The Silent Strike of the Suburbanites.” English Literature in Transition 1880–1920 45.3 (2002): 259–279.

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    Discusses celibacy at the end of the 19th century and the way New Women abstained from sexual union, this silent strike being represented in Dixon’s The Story of a Modern Woman. Dixon’s protagonist undergoes a double sacrifice, with the rejection of marriage resulting in social marginality and loneliness, and its acceptance meaning loss of freedom.

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George Egerton

Although rejecting the term “New Woman,” George Egerton was considered an exemplary figure for the fin-de-siècle feminist and the values she stood for. She wrote several volumes of short stories, the most famous being Keynotes (1893) and Discords (1895). Short stories allowed her to explore feminine psychology in a way that was not possible in the three-volume novel, and her use of dream sequences and ellipses marked an early indicator of the modernist writing that was to follow in the next century. Harris 1968 addresses the idea of modernism in Egerton’s work by examining her realistic treatment of the mind and the techniques she uses through the experimental short-story format. Cosslett 1988 scrutinizes the idea of female friendship in women’s writing, studying the friendships formed in Keynotes and Discords and claiming that brief moments of confidences between women were often central to Egerton’s stories. Gawsworth 1932 reproduces Egerton’s reasoning behind her writing in his collection of original writing. In her essay “Keynotes to Keynotes,” Egerton claims that women had only one plot left to tell: the story of themselves as they knew themselves to be. This revealing insight into her impetus for writing is essential reading for any Egerton scholar. Fluhr 2001, a fascinating essay on Egerton’s reexamination of maternity and its conflict with the female writer, produces a valuable consideration of the roles that late-19th-century women took on and the antithesis between the motherly and writerly roles as well as their similarities. With much Egerton criticism focusing on Keynotes and Discords, Randall 2009 analysis of her Yellow Book story “A Lost Masterpiece,” comes as a refreshing read of a most captivating tale. Considering the narrative voice of the piece, Randall claims that while most of Egerton’s stories were narrated by females, one cannot assume that the narrator of this particular piece was female also. And while Egerton does not reveal a gender, much in the narrator’s attitude toward other women suggests that it is a male voice. This reflects the fin de siècle’s concern with gender and the complexity of constructing a clear gendered voice. Hager 2006 focuses on sexuality in Egerton’s stories, considering the way in which Egerton reconsidered sex and women’s attitudes toward it. Hager argues that Egerton’s women are no longer seen as objects and therefore have thrown off the previous restrictions of sex.

  • Cosslett, Tess. Woman to Woman: Female Friendship in Victorian Fiction. Brighton, UK: Harvester, 1988.

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    The fifth chapter, “New Woman?” focuses on the writing of George Egerton.

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  • Fluhr, Nicole M. “Figuring the New Woman: Writers and Mothers in George Egerton’s Early Stories.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 43.3 (Fall 2001): 243–266.

    DOI: 10.1353/tsl.2001.0013Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Takes a three-pronged approach, looking first at oppositions between writing and motherhood, then at the sexualization of motherhood, before considering how these two supposedly conflicting identities enabled women to deal with the world.

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  • Gawsworth, John. Ten Contemporaries: Notes toward Their Definitive Bibliography. London: Ernest Benn, 1932.

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    Includes Egerton’s original introduction to her collection of short stories Keynotes.

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  • Hager, Lisa. “A Community of Women: Women’s Agency and Sexuality in George Egerton’s Keynotes and Discords.” In Special Issue: The New Woman and Sexuality. Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies 2.2 (Summer 2006).

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    Argues that Egerton’s short-story collections present women’s sexuality in a way that removes any notions of hierarchy, enabling them to address each other on a common ground. Available online.

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  • Harris, Wendell V. “Egerton: Forgotten Realist” Victorian Newsletter 33 (1968): 31–35.

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    Refocuses on the “new realism” of Egerton’s work, something Harris believes went unnoticed during her time because of the outrage her work caused.

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  • Randall, Bryony. “George Egerton’s ‘A Lost Masterpiece’: Inspiration, Gender, and Cultural Authority at the Fin de Siècle.” In New Woman Writers, Authority and the Body. Edited by Melissa Purdue and Stacey Floyd, 1–16. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2009.

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    Examines the way in which the masculinized figure in “A Lost Masterpiece” understands and expresses literary inspiration to reveal how Egerton’s story contributed to the anxiety around male literary authority during the 1890s.

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Sarah Grand

Famous for coining the term “New Woman,” Sarah Grand was a social-purity feminist who had a firm belief in the marriage state but desired a eugenic match and stated that a woman should not marry a man only because she has a passion for him. Her novels conveyed important yet often evaded issues such as venereal disease, contraception, and cross-dressing. Grand turned to novel writing after giving up on her short stories, which had been consistently rejected. Dennis 2007 examines what was believed to be Grand’s autobiographical novel, The Beth Book. By focusing on eating in the novel, Dennis illustrates the way Grand censures the childish appetites of her protagonist Beth. Heilmann and Forward 2000 is a valuable collection of Grand’s writing, composed of four volumes that demonstrate her range of writing, including her journalism and her more obscure fiction. Bonnell 1995 suggests that, despite the female command of New Women fiction at the end of the 19th century, canonization has resulted in representation of this genre today by male authors such as Hardy, Gissing, and Wells. Bonnell believes that this marginalization has produced an alternative vision of New Womanhood, with Sarah Grand representing it most aptly. Jones 2007, an illuminating study of reader response in New Women fiction, concentrates on the way Grand’s literature “fashions” the reader. Jones overlooks the supposed “flaws” of New Woman writing, considering instead the way in which these flaws were essential to the writing and inform part of our reading of it. Kersley 1983 has a particular interest in Grand, Kersley having known her personally. The biography includes a section on New Women in which Kersley points out the contradictory nature of Grand’s views, claiming that even though her married protagonists become victims of their matrimonial ties, Grand herself was a great advocate for the marriage state. She also stresses Grand’s strong involvement in the creation of the New Woman phenomenon. Richardson 2000 focuses on Grand’s preoccupations with eugenics, applying the theories of the founder of eugenics, Francis Galton, to Grand’s The Heavenly Twins.

  • Bonnell, Marilyn. “Sarah Grand and the Critical Establishment: Art for [Wo]man’s Sake.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 14.1 (Spring 1995): 123–148.

    DOI: 10.2307/464251Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that, rather than viewing literature as an aesthetic, artistic format, Grand saw it as a way of expressing social concern, and writing as a way of highlighting and fighting injustice and inequality.

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  • Dennis, Abigail. “‘A Study in Starvation’: The New Girl and the Gendered Socialisation of Appetite in Sarah Grand’s The Beth Book.” Australasian Journal of Victorian Studies 12.1 (2007): 19–34.

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    Through the consumption of food in The Beth Book, Dennis claims Grand shows an indecisive attitude toward the objectives of New Womanhood.

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  • Heilmann, Anne, and Stephanie Forward, eds. Sex, Social Purity, and Sarah Grand. 4 vols. History of Feminism. London: Routledge, 2000.

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    The first volume focuses on her articles and the critical reception of her writing. The second looks at her correspondences. The third and fourth volumes take her less–well-known short stories.

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  • Jones, Anna Maria. “‘A Track to the Water’s Edge’: Learning to Suffer in Sarah Grand’s The Heavenly Twins.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 26.2 (2007): 217–241.

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    Studies the relationship between reading and political activism and the way in which the melancholy of The Heavenly Twins is essential to produce the consequent feminist utopia.

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  • Kersley, Gillian. Darling Madame: Sarah Grand and Devoted Friend. London: Virago, 1983.

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    One of the most reliable sources for a background on Grand’s personal life from a woman who knew her personally.

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  • Richardson, Angelique. “The Eugenization of Love: Sarah Grand and the Morality of Genealogy.” Victorian Studies 42.2 (2000): 227–255.

    DOI: 10.2979/VIC.1999.42.2.227Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The essay is divided into six useful headings: (1) Civic Worth and the Eugenization of Love, (2) Galton, Grand, and Twins, (3) Civic Motherhood, (4) Social Purity and the Road to Eugenics, (5) Eugenizing Narratives, and (6) Narratives of Genealogy.

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Olive Schreiner

Olive Schreiner’s The Story of an African Farm (1883) had a tremendous impact on New Woman literature. Unfortunately, Schreiner was reputed to have a short attention span and, after The Story of an African Farm, she failed to complete another novel, taking instead to writing short, allegorical pieces that were collected in the volume Dreams in 1890. Buchanan-Gould 1948 is one of the earliest biographies of Schreiner and provides a detailed investigation into her life, the author encountering many who were intimately connected to Schreiner during the course of her research, thus providing a far more personal account. Berkman 1979 was produced during a resurgence of interest in Schreiner, which Berkman claims came as part of the need to unveil women’s history. Similarly, First and Scott 1980 was claimed to have emerged from the 1960s women’s liberation movement in Britain and the United States, when there was a context for writing such as Schreiner’s. Moving away from the biographical aspects of Schreiner’s life, Monsman 1991 focuses on the African landscape in Schreiner’s fictional work, assessing the advantage of her home location in subverting traditional notions of gender. Bradford 1995 produces some fascinating insight into Schreiner’s maternal emotions, claiming that Schreiner induced the abortion of her own unwanted pregnancy and, perpetuated this within her fiction as a way of coping with it. The Olive Schreiner Letters Project includes more than five thousand of Schreiner’s extant letters that explore themes such as prostitution, feminism, race, and colonialism.

  • Berkman, Joyce Avrech. Olive Schreiner: Feminism on the Frontier. Monographs in Women’s Studies. St. Alban’s, VT: Eden Press Women’s Publications, 1979.

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    Examines Schreiner’s views of the women’s movement in relation to modern feminist thought. Includes a biographical sketch of Schreiner.

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  • Bradford, Helen. “Olive Schreiner’s Hidden Agony: Fact, Fiction and Teenage Abortion.” Journal of Southern African Studies 21.4 (December 1995): 623–641.

    DOI: 10.1080/03057079508708470Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Bradford addresses the often-neglected idea that the Victorians were able to induce abortions. She argues that Schreiner displayed an awareness of abortion in her fiction.

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  • Buchanan-Gould, Vera. Not Without Honour: The Life and Writings of Olive Schreiner. London: Hutchinson, 1948.

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    An illustrated biography of Schreiner, which looks not only at her personal life, but also reveals much about her personality and considers her connections to Havelock Ellis. Includes an introduction by J. C. Smuts, who was a personal friend of Schreiner.

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  • First, Ruth, and Ann Scott. Olive Schreiner. London: André Deutsch, 1980.

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    Links her work to politics, her private life, and her status as a writer to assess the relationship between public and private. Split into separate considerations of her early life, her position in politics, her novels, England at the end of the 19th century, South Africa at the end of the 19th century, women and labor, and the various wars, including the Boer War and World War I.

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  • Monsman, Gerald. Olive Schreiner’s Fiction: Landscape and Power. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1991.

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    Focuses on Schreiner’s fiction rather than on her biography, providing a critical reading of her narrative pieces and the social interactions within these texts.

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  • Olive Schreiner Letters Project.

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    The project runs from October 2008 to December 2011, transcribing, analyzing, and publishing letters written by Schreiner.

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    Women Readers

    The topic of women’s reading was becoming an issue of greater focus. Feminist periodicals such as Shafts and the Woman’s Herald encouraged women’s reading with regular reviews of what they considered to be important New Women novels. Flint 1993 takes this as a base and considers opinions expressed in periodicals of the time, such as Hugh Stutfield’s “The Psychology of Feminism” in Blackwoods, and W.T. Stead’s article from the Review of Reviews. Looking at these and the encouragement of reading in women’s magazines such as Shafts, she sees reading as a way of obtaining knowledge rather than a form of escapism. Bittel 2006 considers the concept of “New Girl” fiction, as named by Sally Mitchell in Mitchell 1995, which Bittel claims has not received the renewed scholarly attention of the New Woman texts, which, according to Bittel, are marginalized by their association with children’s fiction. She challenges previous notions attached to this literature, such as those of escapism, and examines it as a contribution to the New Woman literature that shaped its young female readers. Ardis 1999 looks at the contexts in which New Women literature would be read, considering networks of women with regard to friendships, book groups, and suffrage organizations.

    Themes

    In the reading of New Women fiction and nonfiction, several themes emerge. These generally reveal New Women preoccupations, including the debate on the marriage question, spearheaded by Mona Caird in the Westminster Review.

    Marriage

    Marriage was a contentious issue for New Women. Where previously it was considered an “occupation” that locked women into the sphere of domesticity, by the 1890s it became a symbol of female dependence, with many women choosing not to marry. With such freedom came greater opportunities in education and the workplace. Bland 1995 provides a useful background on marriage at the end of the 19th century, citing the Infant Custody Acts, the Married Women’s Property Acts, and the Matrimonial Causes Act as driving forces behind a change in women’s relationships to men. Bland also touches on feminist sex education, an important aspect of the maternity debate. Calder 1976 also produces a helpful history of marriage, mentioning Caird and Corelli as prominent figures in the debate. Forward 1999, focusing on the four major female New Women writers—Schreiner, Caird, Grand, and Egerton— considers their views on marriage and prostitution. The article opens with an overview of contemporary 19th-century criticism, demonstrating that views toward sexuality and prostitution were not as prudish as previously thought.

    • Bland, Lucy. “Marriage: Its Iniquities and Its Alternatives.” In Banishing the Beast: English Feminism and Sexual Morality 1885–1914. By Lucy Bland, 124–186. London: Penguin, 1995.

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      Includes a particular focus on the work of Mona Caird, who had a tremendous impact on the marriage debate.

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    • Calder, Jenni. “New Women.” In Women and Marriage in Victorian Fiction. By Jenni Calder, 159–170. World of Literature. London: Thames and Hudson, 1976.

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      Presents a clear and concise picture of the position that women were taking on marriage at the end of the 19th century, citing women’s magazines as an excellent guide for established opinions on the subject.

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    • Forward, Stephanie. “Attitudes to Marriage and Prostitution in the Writings of Olive Schreiner, Mona Caird, Sarah Grand and George Egerton.” Women’s History Review 8.1 (1999): 53–76.

      DOI: 10.1080/09612029900200192Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      Uses separate headings to produce an individual study of each author.

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    Science and Sexuality

    With women fighting for greater opportunities in their lives, those within the medical community claimed that such strenuous activity would lead to ill health and, consequently, degeneration among the races. It was a common belief among late-19th-century doctors that by developing their brains women were depriving their uteruses. It was also believed that an increased awareness of sexuality in women was dangerous to female health, leading to hysterical symptoms as manifested in diseases such as syphilis. Kristine Swenson has most notably carried out a good deal of research in the field of Victorian medical work. Swenson 2005 considers the complex relationship between women and medicine in Victorian society. She examines the crossover of fiction, feminism, and medicine, concentrating on Britain and its colonies. Swenson 2003, an article on Arabella Kenealy, focuses on the short story “A Beautiful Vampire,” which was published in the Ludgate Magazine in 1896 and decried the aging woman as a symbol of degeneration. Through her study of the antifeminist Kenealy, Swenson brings fresh light to an oft-neglected yet highly influential woman writer of the 1890s. She also addresses the popular image of the vampire as one that represented female sexuality. Hammack 2008 continues this theme with a study of Florence Marryat’s The Blood of the Vampire, printed in 1897. This study of a vampire book that has received little attention, overshadowed by the likes of Stoker’s Dracula and Le Fanu’s “Carmilla,” identifies the novel’s protagonist as a New Woman, representing the feared sexual deviance of the time. Hall 2004 studies the scientific movement of sexology along with social-purity feminism, arguing that they have been overlooked, with neither being monolithic, and that they reach much farther back in time than most historians realize. Ehnenn 2008 looks at the history of women’s literary partnerships, providing insight into female sexuality at the end of the 19th century. In a study of the closing decades of the 19th century, Showalter 1992 includes a chapter dedicated to the New Woman phenomenon, focusing in particular on sexuality and its medical repercussions. Showalter 1996, an account of sexuality during the fin de siècle, considers syphilis as an affliction emblematic of disease within families. Indeed, syphilis was examined at length within a number of New Woman texts such as Grand’s novel The Heavenly Twins and Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House.

    • Ehnenn, Jill R. Women’s Literary Collaboration, Queerness, and Late-Victorian Culture. Nineteenth Century Series. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2008.

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      Focusing on 19th-century women writers, Ehnenn examines queer authorship and culture, concentrating her study on New Woman novelists such as Vernon Lee and Elizabeth Robbins through the lens of their collaborative writing.

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    • Hall, Lesley. “Hauling Down the Double Standard: Feminism, Social Purity and Sexual Science in Late Nineteenth-Century Britain.” Gender & History 16.1 (April 2004): 36–56.

      DOI: 10.1111/j.0953-5233.2004.325_1.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      Discusses the apparent dichotomy between the scientific ideologies of sexology and the social-purity strand of feminism.

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    • Hammack, Brenda Mann. “Florence Marryat’s Female Vampire and the Scientizing of Hybridity.” Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900 48.4 (Autumn 2008): 885–896.

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      A study of Marryat’s 1897 novel The Blood of the Vampire, which Hammack reads as a medical case study rather than a gothic, supernatural tale.

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    • Showalter, Elaine. Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siècle. London: Bloomsbury, 1992.

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      Discusses attitudes toward marriage, the medical side effects of bachelorhood, female sexuality, and the New Man. Has a particular focus on New Woman writer Olive Schreiner.

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    • Showalter, Elaine. “Syphilis, Sexuality, and the Fiction of the Fin de Siècle.” In Reading Fin de Siècle Fictions. Edited by Lyn Pykett. Longman Critical Readers. London: Longman, 1996.

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      Discusses the fear of sexual contamination during a period of gender crisis in which the syphilitic male became a villain in female writing.

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    • Swenson, Kristine. “The Menopausal Vampire: Arabella Kenealy and the Boundaries of True Womanhood.” Women’s Writing 10.1 (2003): 27–46.

      DOI: 10.1080/09699080300200257Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      Kenealy was not one of the women writers whose work reemerged during the resurgence in feminist literature. By conducting a study of Kenealy’s fascinating short story, Swenson reveals the way in which gothic conventions were used to subvert ideas of sexuality and aging.

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    • Swenson, Kristine. Medical Women and Victorian Fiction. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2005.

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      Includes a chapter on the New Woman doctor novel in which Swenson examines Arabella Kenealy’s Dr Janet of Harley Street along with Margaret Todd’s Mona Maclean, Medical Student, both of which were written during the early 1890s.

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    LAST MODIFIED: 03/02/2011

    DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199799558-0045

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