contesting-consuming femininities

contesting-consuming femininities - 14 New Woman Fiction...

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Unformatted text preview: 14 New Woman Fiction dressing and of the various conceptualisations of motherhood in Chapter 4 highlights the diversity of New Woman approaches by offer- ing radical and psychoanaiytic readings as well as readings based on French feminist theory. The last chapter examines the way in which the theme of female artistic production is coached in mothering and cre- ating metaphors. in what sense did writers revise the Bildimgsromun and Kiinstierron-Irm tradition in order to (re)construct the problems and con— tlicts inherent in their own position as women artists? What metaphors did they mobilize in their exploration of female identity and fragmen- tation, sociai conformity and feminist rebellion, and their protagonists’ journey from the heart 0% darkness to artistic seifhood? Ultimately, then, if this book begins with the cultural contestation of the concept of the New Woman, it ends with the New Woman writer’s literary and politi— cal self—affirmation. 1 Contesting/ Consumin g Femininities i’i‘lhe modern man-hater cannot forgive the woman. . . who still believes in old—fashioned distinctions. . . Eiiza Lynn Linton, ’Modern ManJ-laters’ (1871)1 it is the Old Woman who shrieks. Her most prominent char- acteristic is disloyalty to her own sex. Sarah Grand, ’The New Woman and the Old' {1898)2 [A] truer type of woman is springing up in our midst, combin— ing the 'sweet, domestic graces’ of the bygone days with a wide- minded interest in things outside her own immediate circle, extending her womanly influence to the world that so sadly needs the true women’s touch to keep it all that true woman would have it. The woman comes forth for the worid’s need. Austin May, ’Womanly Women’ (1893):; I want to speak in the name of the average more or less unem— ployed, tea-drinking, lawnntennis playing, ball-going damsel, whose desire for greater emancipation does not run in the same lines as those of the independent shop-gin, or of the young woman with a mission. . . . The so-cailed revolting maiden only asks for a small amount of liberty. Kathleen Cnffe, 'A Reply from The Daughters’ (1894)4 ’Is the New Woman a Myth?’ asked the Humanitarian in 1896, some three years after the term had become a password on the British cul— tural scene.5 The proliferation of articles, books, pamphlets, satirical verse and cartoons in the 18905 indicates that, in the media at least, the 15 16 New Wit-nan Fiction New Woman was ever-present. The many terms with which the fir-1 tie siécie sought to capture the phenomenon of the New Woman are an indication of how firmly forty years of feminist activism had established the notion of the ’Modern Woman’b in the public consciousness. Some terms — 'Novissima’,7 'the advanced woman of to-day'8 and ‘the Woman of the Period” — stressed her avant-gardist and trend~setting effect, and could connote praise or censure. Those sympathetic to the New Woman saw her as a positive force for social change. Her opponents stressed her superficiaiity and love of sensation; the term 'Woman of the Period’ was a belated attempt to revive the one-time furore over the ’Girl of the Period’, whom in 1868 Eliza Lynn Linton had berated as selfish, fun- loving, rfast’, and immoral.'” Associated with the social and poiitical problems of the day, the New Woman coniured up an army of unmarried 'Odd Wornen’, or married but unoccupied ‘Superfluous Womleln’,” her synonyms reflecting the anxieties aroused by her political demands (the 'Wild Woman'}12 and her strictures on male sexual conduct (the “Modern Mannliater’). By her very ’odtiness’ she raised the spectre of sexual deviance, her difference from other ('normal') women, her ‘odd’ rejection of men, her own rejec— tion by men (hence her redundancy) all pointing to her transgressive potential. To defuse this threat, conservatives often mobilized the cliche of the mannish Virago Cartoon images of unsightly harridans served to des- tabilize more positive textual explorations of the New Woman. An example of this can be found in Sarah Grand’s short story, 'Should Irascible Oid Gentlemen Be Taught to Knit?’ (1894). A parody on the New Woman’s sophisticated use of feminine wiles to convert a grumpy grandfather to the pleasures of knitting, the story ends with the uncon— ditional victory oi femininity over patriarchy.” Phil May, the editor of the ionrnai (who was soon to ioin Punch)” provided four illustrations, of which only two {Figures 2 and 3) were directly reiated to the story itself (featuring the grandfather ‘before’ and rafter’ his feminization). The other two illustrations show the fearful repercussions of such role reversal. In Figure 4 an aggressively virile New Woman in a bowler hat, cigarette in her hand and knickerbockered legs wide apart, is leaning against the counter of a bar, eyeing the effeminate barkeeper through her monocle. The page facing the story’s conclusion pictures a “mon- strous regiment” of three New Women in various stages of masculine degeneration (Figure 5), from androgyny (the straight-shaped figure on the right) through hermaphroditism (a provocatively Curved body with a bOyish face and sternly clipped hair) to fullmblown machismo (the Contasting/Consort:irig Femininities 17 $1.40th IMSeIEEE oI—Q QEF'TLEHEFI BE eaves? 'Fo 2: 'Should lrascible Oltl Gentlemen lie ’l'aught to Knit?’ shapeless, moustachioed and cigarette-smoking ’chap’ on the left). In the brave new world of phallic New Women, there is evidently no longer a place for men. Not all visual representations of the New Woman were uncompli- mentary. As the printed medium became the site of contestation over the multiple meanings of New Womanhood, iliustrators contributed their part to the controversy. ’The Championess’ (Figure 6) foregrounds a female cyclist in Rational Dress, but instead of lambasting her as a i E i , 18 New Warrior-i l-‘iction r 3: (Untitled) E'l‘wo old men Knittingl figure of fun (Figure 7) or as an overbearing Virago, the picture couples female seif-assurance (a confident posture) with health (a trim figure in comfortable and yet becoming clothes), femininity (a pretty face with an inviting smile) and fashion consciousness (a styiish hat, the flower in her hair). Throwing into relief the natural curves of her body, the buckle of her belt is at once a marker of her sex and, by its keyhole shape, a metonymy for the entire illustration: the key to the Modern Corrtesting/Countering Ferriirriirities 19 4: (Untitled) [New Woman leaning across bar] Age is the New Woman The eiegantly dressed and unambiguously gen- dered figures in the background serve as a further reminder that her pur‘ suits and interests do not unsex the New Woman; nor, judging by the harmonious line of female and male cylists, do they pit the sexes against each other. An emblem of the shifting and conflicting conceptualisations of gender and sexuality at the fin de siet‘le, the New Woman was thus con- E l i i i l l i g 20 New Woman Fiction ’j‘HE New ‘yu’otimt Miss qumm lo Miss BROWN (the Ru one with the light moustache): “Oh, I say, nirl chap. how do you make it grow? What do you use for it?" 5: ”l‘he New Woman’ sttucted ‘as simultaneously non-female, mtfeminirre and Lima-feminine.” Three different agents were involved in creating and contesting these contradictory meanings. As the Phil May cartoons illustrate, the anti-feminist malestream was apt to decry the unsexing effect of New Womanhood. Female anti-feminists, on the other hand, exalted the ‘womanly’ qualities of the Old Woman in order to call into question Coritesting/Cmtstmting Femininitir‘s 21 6: “The Championess’ 7: “Speaks for itself’ modern woman’s claim to femininity. Feminist journalists and writers countered by arguing that only the New Woman reflected ‘true’ womanhood. The ’Championess’ suggests that the New Woman’s par- ticular appeal resided in her successful synthesis of 'old’ and ’new’ qual- ities {femininity and self-confidence, a sense of dress and the desire for physical exercise, a healthy body and mind). As the war of words and images developed from within the periodi- 22 New Won-rim Fiction cai press and fiction markets, the resonance these concepts carried with the female middle-class cOnsumer targeted by the new print media” began to influence the terms of the debate. The popularity enjoyed by feminist writers had the effect of turning the New Woman into a symbol of fashionable modernity. At a time when feminist ideas were taking root in mainstream thought, conservatives started calling any woman holding even slightfy unconventional views a ’New Woman’. This in turn led to a deflation of the feminist concept with a resultant shift in meaning. While many feminist activists, particuiariy those who were also writers and iournalists, defined themselves as New Women, not every turn-of-the-century 'New Woman’ would have thought of herself as a feminist. . _ This chapter explores the complex processes at work in the formation and transformation of the concept of the New Woman, paying particu- lar attention to the decisive role played by women (as feminists, anti- feminists, andiconsumers) in the debate about the meanings of New Womanhood. Three generations of women were directly involved in this debate, with differences in age often signaliing ideological divisions: if the 'rnothers’ of the New Woman were born around the mid-century, some of the selfndefrned 'Old’ Women were, in the 1890s, of the 'grand- mother’ generation, white the female consumer group most receptive to the ‘fashionable’ aspects of New Womanhood represented the 'daughters’ of the movement. Elaine Showalter notes that the fin de sterile marked a 'battie within the sexes’ as well as a ’battie hem/ecu the sexes’;” to what extent did the New Woman debate pinpoint this battle between women? What strategies did feminist writers employ to ‘market’ the New Woman, and what impact did they have on the middie—class 'daughter’ keen to extend her range of opportunities? When, indeed, did the New Woman debates begin? Naming the New Woman The term “New Woman' was used in its capitalized form as eariy as 1865, when the WJsmrinster Review branded the subversive heroine of the new sensation novels as the ’New Woman . . . no longer the Angel, but the Devil in the House'.18 As Lyn Pykett has shown, the female sensation novel and New Woman fiction provoked the same moral panic; sexu- ally and poiitically disruptive, both genres figured unruly heroines whose activities unsettled male authority in the institutions of marriage and the family.” Ali the more ironic, then, that a quarter century iater the New Woman should become the bone of contention between the Contesting/Cmnaming Ferrrininities 23 older sensationalist and the younger feminist women writers: the battle of words between Sarah Grand and Ouida, conducted in the North American Review in 1894, is often seen as a defining moment of the New Woman controversy.an As Michelle Elizabeth Tusan has recently argued, the New Woman was invented by feminist periodicals which, aiming to mobilize widespread female support for a ’new female poiitical identity’, encouraged woman- to-woman interchange and feminist debate. She cites the August 1893 issue of the Women’s Herald as the site of the first discussion of the fin— n'ensiecle New Woman.Zl it was in order to counter the culturai dissemi- nation of feminist visions of social and political transformation that the conservative press adopted the New Woman in 1894, tuining her into a dystopian figure of degeneration. 1895 constituted the third stage of the debate as the New Woman became a battleground for contesting viewpoints. As a result of the anti-feminist onslaught, feminists began to stress the New Woman’s femininity, her domestic qualities and tra— ditional values. From 1897 onwards, Tusan argues, the terms of the debate shifted yet again. As the New Woman ceased to signify the British feminist and became a term of reference for Continental women’s movements, she began to disappear from the pages of feminist periodi- cals; in 1898 the mainstream press followed suit. it was only after the turn of the century, in the wake of suffragette activism, that the concept underwent a revival. Tusan's revised chronology is useful in that it draws attention to the important (and neglected) role the new feminist press played in the con- struction of the New Woman. However, in view of the sheer number of articles — and novels w published in and after 1897 1 am sceptical about the idea that the New Woman was ‘passé' in the closing years of the century m if anything, this time constituted a second peak of the move« ment. It would be more appropriate to say that, while feminist jour- naiists and writers were consolidating their success with the mainstream pubiic, it was the anti—feminists who were coming to a dead end. The ‘gynecian war"22 initiaiiy, conservative women had a significant impact on the forma— tion of pubiic opinion. The most intriguing thing about female anti— feminism was its ideologicai instability. Eliza Lynn Linton, who in 1871 had coined the notorious invective of the ‘shrieking sisterhood?" is a case in point. Her eariy sympathies for the women’s movement notwithstanding, she was relentless in her attack on feminists, whom 24 New Woman Fiction she targeted in a spate of articles published in the last three decades of the nineteenth century. Yet even while engaged in denigrating the New Woman, she was susceptibie to her positive attributes. The portrait she painted in her novels incorporated many of the aspects with which feminists endowed the New Woman: her desire for knowledge; the criti— cal spirit with which she approached established traditions and male authority; her sense of a mission and reformist zeal (TOTM, 39w4l). Feminists like Grand constructed the New Woman in not dissimilar terms but emphasized that her knowledge did not ’unsex’ her since her irnpeccahie morals kept her 'inteliect clear and senses unaffected' (HT, 23). Linton, on the other hand, referred to the good qualities of the New Woman only to link thern to cliches. Thus her New Womenrare deca- dents drawn to morbid subjects but with no serious commitment to social change; mere amateurs, they are “never thorough’: as “artists, as literati, as tradeswomen, as philanthropists, it is all a mere tOuch—and- go kind of thing with them’.24 What emerges from behind the anti~ ieminist rhetoric is the older professional’s fear of her young competi- tors who were attacking the system that had rewarded her: this was a war about the terms of female professionalism as much as about femi~ nism. Some 40 years later Virginia Woolf would return to this issue in Three Guineas: ‘do we wish to join that procession, or don’t we? On what terms shall we join that procession? Above ail, where is it leading us, the procession of educated men?’ (TG, 72). Anti—feminists, who had based their careers and social standing on being part of the procession, had a stake in defending its ceremonial. in their noveis anti—feminist women used two different piot structures to discredit the New Woman: they contrasted the ugly feminist with the ’tair young English girl’,25 and featured heroines temporarily infected by New Woman ideas but ultimately rescued by good Old Men. Unregen- erate New Women were always severely punished for their transgressive behaviour. In iuxtaposing New Woman and Old Girl, writers sought to revitalize the old ideal of Victorian womanhood. The problem with this kind of heroine was that even anti—feminists had ceased to believe in her. By the late nineteenth century, the Angel in the House had acquired the sickly pathos Virginia Woolf was to describe with such wicked irony in 1931: She was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daiiy. if there was chicken, she took the leg; if Contesting/Consuming Femininitics 25 there was a draught she sat in it — in fact she was so constituted that she never had a mind or a wish of her own, but preferred to sympa- thize always with the minds and wishes of others. (‘PFW', 59) The vulnerability of such a heroine did not stand comparison with the New Woman’s momentous vitality and strength of character, even if she was constructed as a caricature. In The One Too Many (1894) Eliza Lynn Linton sketches four different types of deviant women (the tomboy, the sentimental romantic, the man-hater, and the neurotic decadent), describing the tomboy and the decadent in greater detail. Only one of these, Effie Chegwin, could be said to represent the New Woman 'proper’. The decadent Laura Prestbury is a revamped version of the stock villainness, with some ’modern' elements thrown in to link her superficially to the New Woman. The only attribute she shares with Effie is her staying power: despite having “burnt herself out’ on a diet of ’stimulants, material and mental’, her love of wine apparently com- pounding the ravages wreaked by higher education (T OT M, 59), she proves a great deal more resilient than the good Oid Giri whose husband she steals. Too engrossed in her pathological studies to give any thought to her femininity, and too relaxed with men to be aware of sexual difference, the New Woman and fearless amazon Effie dispiays an alarming affin- ity to the female invert, then the subject oi intense sexological scrutiny. And yet Linton cannot have prevented contemporary readers from liking Effie for her amazing bouts of energy and the intrepidity with which she pursues her projects. An accomplished Girton Girl, she is erni— nently successful in everything she undertakes, and men find her irre- sistible; her unfortunate cousin is consumed with unrequited love, and the man lucky enough to be favoured by her affection happiiy submits to her love—making: 'it was she who wooed and he who yielded — she who from the first forced the pace and made the running’ (TOTM, 112). Ultimately, Linton was unable to resist the great vitality and charm of the character she intended as a warning. Her aim of promoting the Angel of the House proved a spectacular failure: this is shown by the barely concealed impatience with which the narrator deals with the character who represents 'the sweet girls still left among us who have no part in the revolt but are content to be dutiful, innocent, and sheltered’, to whom Linton dedicated the novel (emphasis in original). Blond—haired, soft-natured and weak—willed, Moira West is Effie's very opposite. Doomed to he ‘the one too many’, she is unable to take her r l E l l 26 New l/Vornrrn Fiction life into her own hands, and never so much as raises her voice in protest: she simply has “not force enough to resist' (TOTM, 32). The narrator implies that her demise is ultimately her own fault, and that her life could have been very different, had she only refused to play ‘the role of victim' (TOTM, 355—7). The diametrically opposed fates of the two main characters suggest very clearly that to be a sweet girl was as exasperating to onlookers as it was harmfui to herself, and that the New Woman had an incompa— rably better time of it, to say nothing of her better chances of survival. Not surprisingly, contemporary readers did not think much of the novel; like her polemic The New Women (1895), this was a book which ’boomeranged’ on Linton, hastening her departure from the literary scene?“ The strategy of contrasting a weak Old Girl with a dynamic New Woman was a recipe for disaster. A more successful means of promoting traditional values was to cast the heroine as a (moderate) New Woman and to contrast her with a mad, ugly and man—hating feminist whose actions cause a crisis which propels the heroine back into the arms of a conventional husband. in this way the focus could be shifted from the war of the sexes (very much in the spotlight in novels like The One Too Many with its downtrodden wife and abusive husband), to the war within one sex (women), and often within one female character (the heroine). Male figures were thus divested of their negative role as women's iailers and made into knight errants eager to rescue the heroine from the grasp of a destructive woman. While feminists were associated with the discourses of. madness and violence, their male opponents became the voice of reason and freedom: 'You have your own life to lead, your own nature to perfect, and you may carry submission and self repression too far,’ Leslie Crawford tells Perdita in Linton’s The Rebel of the Family (1880), adding that she should keep clear of the ‘unsexed’ women's righters who want her to join their radical lesbian community (ROF, 225). Feminist arguw merits thus serve to wean women away from feminism. Perdita, who initially had no other wish than that ‘she could have been born a boy and could go out into the world' {ROE 44), and who struggled hard to find employment in the face of maternal opposition, is so disillusioned by her feminist friends that she decides to throw them over, and her job with it, to embrace the very domesticity from which she had sought to escape: 'Oh, but being married to a good man and having children of your own is better than all this . . . After all, work is only a substitute’ (ROF, 122}. The marriage plot thus reinstated conservative maie values, humbiing Crmtestfrzg/Co:Hunting I-‘eiriiniirities 27 the headwstrong and independent-ininded heroine into accepting the expediency of conventional domesticity. This is the case in Mrs Humphry Ward’s Marcella (1894), which attacks feminism in its alliance with political radicalism by positioning the heroine between two men representing, respectively, socialism and capitalism, political/moral anarchy and Conservative family values. In Ward’s anti-suffrage novei Delia Blcmchflower (1915) the opponent. of law and order is no ionger cast as a socialist, but as a suffragette. Like Marcella ambushed ideologi- cally by a clever strategy of emotional blackmail, Delia becomes entan- gled with the man-hater Gertrude Marvell to the extent of joining her ‘Daughters of Revolt’. While Linton discredits sutfragists as adventurers and exhibitionists in search of erotic pleasure, Ward disparages her militant feminists as failed women and freaks of nature consumed by anger and resentment: In the dim illumination the faces of the six women emerged, typical . . . of the forces behind the revolutionary wing of the woman’s movement. iinthusiasms of youth and age — hardships of body and spirit m rancour and generous hope — sore heart and untrained mind w fanatical brain and dreaming ignorance u love unsatisfied, and ener- gies unused — they were all there, and all hanging upon . . .some- thing called “the vote,’ conceived as the only means to a new heaven and a new earth. (DB, 146) The struggle for women’s enfranchisement is reduced to the personal vendetta of a bunch of crackpots. Militant feminism is contrasted with the rescue work undertaken by social reformers. The true spirit of fem- ininity, Ward implies, resides in philanthropy A but only if it is coupled with the capacity for self-denial. The respectable lady reformer wishes to ’inspire’ great social change while herself remaining anonymous: [Miss Dempsey] had written a without her name — a book describing the condition of a great seaport town where she had once lived. The facts recorded in it had inspired a great reforming Act. No one knew anything offierpnrt in it . . . Many persons indeed came to consult her- she gave all her knowledge to those who wanted it,- she taught and she counselled, always as one who feit herself the mere humble wreath- piece of things divine and compelling; and those who went away en- riched did indeed finger her in her message, as she meant them to do. (DB, 165, emphasis added) 28 New Woman Fiction Attacking feminist activism in the guise of supporting non-militant action, Ward curiously undermined her own position as educational reformer and anti-suffrage activist. The leading voice behind the ’Appeai Against Female Suffrage’ in 188937 and the first president of the Anti- Suffrage League in 1908, she was anything but a ’mere humble mouth- piece’ who wanted to be ’forgotten in her message’. Moreover, Miss Dempsey’s noble yet unspecified activities are strongly reminiscent oi Josephine Butler's work with prostitutes in Liverpool and her campaign against the Contagious Diseases Acts — a cause as notorious in its time as suffragette militancy was after the turn of the century, and one whose social purist ethic and political strategies directly inspired the iater movement. As an example of feminine moderation this was a non— starter. Moreover, by insisting on the need for gentle self-etfacement, Ward inadvertently validated the argument for militant action: the point of the sutfragettes was precisely that the constitutional sutfragists had permitted their demands to be ’forgotten’; it was only by making a public nuisance of themselves that women could hope to achieve their political ends.28 Ward packaged her anti-suffrage message in a plot at the centre of which is a love triangle between Gertrude, Delia, and her guardian, Mark Winnington. In the end, Gertrude self—destructs after fire-bombing the house of an MP. Like a medieval witch, she is burnt alive after failing to save a girl—child trapped in the flames, the very nature of her death pointing to the return of her repressed womanly instincts. The suf— fragette takes on human shape only in her capacity as a tailed mother; in her death, she becomes a warning to other women: in Delia there wiii reverberate till death that waii of a fierce and child- less woman — that last cry of nature in one who had defied Nature a of womanhood in one who had renounced the ways of womanhood: the child! — the child! (DE, 40940, emphasis in original) With the evil spirit of feminism exorcised, the male order is restored and the ‘revolting daughter’ speedily transformed into a doting wife. The happy ending of Ward’s novel did not, however, transiate into good sales figures. in 1894 Marcella had been an instant bestseller on both sides of the atlantic; Delia Binnchflower, by contrast, was a flop.29 The popular appeal of feminist writers meant that anti-feminism had ceased to pay. This was compounded by the blatant inconsistencies between the writers’ independent, professional lives and their ultra-conservative i . s . i i 1 (Em-atesring/Conn:wing F emini m‘ ties 29 message. Linton, for example, did not marry until weli into her thirties and then acted as the breadwinner of the family; when ’the restrictions of home began to irk and gall’, she separated from her husband and his children, stating in her fictionaiized autobiography that she only ever lived for her work (ACK, Ill, 40, i92—3). The ambivalences and contradictions so prominent in anti-feminist lives and works can be exemplified by a brief comparison of the way in which the subject of the professional woman was approached by the two groups of writers. A physician herself, Arabella Kenealy attacked the medical woman in Dr inner ome-iey Street (1893), constructing her as a mannish character with a ’deep voice', a figure of ’ample proportions’ dressed with utter disregard to social conventions, her divided skirt and ’rnan’s shooting coat’ indicative of her blurring of gender boundaries {DR}, 86). This ambiguousiy sexed doctor adopts a young woman on the run from a violent husband, expressing a personal interest which carries distinctly lesbian undertones: ’I warn you to let her alone,’ she advises her cousin, ’i won’t have you make love to her — E won’t have any man make love to her. i want her for myself’ {DR}, 142). inevitably, of course, she fails: a true woman, Phyllis has not the slightest inclination for any kind of occupation, least of all a medical career, dropping into Paul’s arms at the earliest possible opportunity. Although they themselves were distinguishing themselves in male« dominated professions, anti—feminists thus suggested that a public career divested women of their femininity, and that only an already unsexed woman wouid strive for it. Feminist writers, on the other hand, wrote about the problems their heroines encountered in having to balance the contrasting demands of love and work, sometimes creating characters who succeed in getting the best of both worlds. in Margaret Todd’s Mona Modem, Medical Student (1892), a novel modelled on Emily Flemming’s lite and enthusiastically praised by Sarah Grand and Sophia Jeri—Blake,3U a female medical student serves a moral and professional apprenticeship before entering a working partnership with her husband. The novel emphasizes the crucial role the woman doctor plays in the femaie community: to her great relief, a shy and embarrassed female patient is instantly referred to Mona. Drawing on the metaphor of a bridge, 'i‘odd suggests that in the present state of society women have a collective responsibility towards their sex: [lit seems to me . . . as if we women had gone halfway across a yawning chasm on a slender bridge. The farther shore, as we see it now, is not ali that our fancy pictured,- but it still seems on the whole 30 New Woman Fiction more attractive than the one we have left behind. . . it would be a terrible thing for the leaders of any movement to lose faith in the middle of the bridge, and, if we cannot strengthen their hands, we are bound at ieast not to weaken them. (MM, 465—6) Anti—feminist writers had stopped haif—way across the bridge, enjoying their privileged position, but barring the way for others to follow. This is the diametric opposite of the roie writers like Olive Schreiner and Mona Caird invoked when they conjured up the image of a bridge formed with the bodies of feminists ready to sacrifice themselves for future generations of women (’TD’, 82—3; DD, 451}. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar have argued that nineteenth-century women writers’ sense of isoiation and their fear of overstepp‘rng the mark resulted in an ’anxiety of authorship’. This anxiety could even take the form of a 'schizophrenia of authorship’ when writers iound themseives trapped in male scripts, with stereotypicai fernaie characters they couid not identify with.“ Anti-feminist New Woman writers, who attempted to reinscribe maie plots and stereotypes on to a female genre with feminist conventions, had to contend with an even more paradoxical situation. The only way they were abie to negotiate their own transgression, as writers and as women who lived very unusual lives, appears to have been through an exaggerated promotion of the values of the dominant culture and the public denunciation of other women. Feminist writers were quick to turn to their own advantage the Vitri— olic tone of anti-feminist works, exploding the conservative notion of the rshrieking sister’ by declaring that it was the Old Woman, not the New, who was unifeminine: ’the loudest and most hystericai screarners’, Grand proclaimed, ’are the women who are for ever attacking their own sex.“ At the same time feminist heroines were presented as models of virtuous womanliness. By enveloping their characters in a feminine mystique, writers sought to 'seduce’ their readers to the New Woman’s sexual politics. Seduction stories The ‘ugly and careless way’ in which some ’excellent women, allied with the advanced movement’, presented themselves to the public had, Grand deplored, 'thrown back the woman’s cause fifty years'.“ In order to win popular support, she exhorted feminists to improve on their ! l l Cor-1resting/Consliming.Femiriiniries 31 image by ’makiing} the most of {their} appearance’ and cultivating the ’art of pleasing’: On no account leave the heart out of your calcuiations. . . . To succeed all. round, you must invite the eye, you must charm the eat, you must excite an appetite for the pleasure of knowing you and hearing you by acquiring that delicate arorna, the reputation of being a pleasing person . . . People have been made to believe that a knowlu edge of politics unsexes women . . .One safeguard from [this preju- dice] is to adopt a policy which shall disarm it.“ The ’Grand' strategy of seduction was painstakingly applied to New Woman fiction, with many writers going to great iengths to stress the hyper-femininity of their heroines. While turning the tables on the Old Woman by casting her in the role of ’shrieking’ Virago, feminists also poked fun at the Oid Man and his sexual susceptibility to the very women to whose political views he was so averse. in 'Ubiquitous Woman’ (1909), a short story by Agnes Grove (a suffragette as well as a travel and fashion writer), the male narrator, an MP invited to speak against the motion at a suffrage meeting, suffers a not inconsid- erable shock when he realizes that the 'srnall and slight and unmistak- ably beautitui’, ’fauitlessly dressed’ and vivacious young lady with ’just that indescribabie air of distinction in her "deportmentw whom he had immediately classed as one of his own, is in fact the main speaker ('UW’, 443). Since she also speaks exceedingly well and to the purpose, he finds that ’ali [his] preconceived notions’ are thrown into 'a state of confusion and disorder': ’No one could say. . . that that intensely feminine-looking woman standing there and speaking . . . was performing an unwomanly action’ (‘UW’, 578). Even greater is his con— sternation when his ‘side’ is represented by a very different kind of WOITlEll‘li a lady had arisen whom. I had noticed before, and as emphatically labelled ’for’ as i had labelled my divinity ‘against.’ She was dressed in a garment of brown silk, made, to judge from the effect produced, several generations ago,- a bright blue, uncoropromising-looking feather standing bolt upright adorned her headgear. (‘UW’, 578) Repelied by the phallicaily trimmed woman with a ’hard, strident voice', he converts to women’s rights and gets engaged to the suffragist 'divin- 32 New Women Fiction ity’ (’UW’, 578). Similarly, in Gertrude Colmore’s Suffi‘ogettes (1931), the charismatic Lady Geraldine Hill (modelled on Constance Lytton) turns the previously anti—feminist brother of a fellow suffragette into an ardent supporter of the cause. Like Grove’s MP, the male narrator of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Moving the Mountain (1911) is aggrieved to find that one oi the few women to cling to the old values is exactiy the one he does emphatically not fancy: 'It was annoying beyond measure to have the only specimen of the kind of woman 1 used to like turn out to be personally the kind I never liked’ (MTM, 49). In their fiction feminists thus responded to the conservative challenge by turning the dual fronts of the (female versus male, and younger versus older female) war of the sexes into a ’sexy war’ in which clever and determined women conquered rnaie opposition with the Combined forces of cleft logic and supple flesh. Feminists' persuasive powers could also be directed towards women: in Elizabeth Robins’s The Convert (1907), the suffragette Vida Levering gains the reluctant political support of the local Tory MP by threatening to enlist his fiancée in the cause. V'ida’s personai magnetism is iuxtaposed to the unpleasantness of an ungainly 'anti’ who, her meek and down-trodden ‘hang—dog husband' in tow, reprimands the suffragettes for neglecting their domes~ tic duties (TC, 107). The alluring qualities of the invariably elegant and aiways meticu- lously and stylishly dressed heroines of these seduction stories were meant to appeal to the fashion—consciousness of an (upper) rniddle~elass female audience, with the aim of making them conceive the incon- ceivable, that suffering made a lady, and that the only true lady was a feminist. The enormous success of the Edwardian suffragettes in mar- keting their image was at least in part due to the fin-de-siecle writers who had paved the way by conceptually linking martyrdom with political activism, and feminism with feminine chic. As many New Woman writers were poiitically active feminists, their articles and books served a doubie purpose: to further the cause of women’s rights by promoting the feminist as a quintessentially ’good', as weil as immeasurably attractive, woman who had suffered injustice at the hands of men, but also to reflect on their own identities as femi- nists and New Women by providing an insider’s commentary on their position with regard to the movement. This duality of authorial purpose is reflected in their writing: they individualized women’s oppression in a character the readers could identify with and then generalized this oppression by showing that all women suffered the same injustices. The solutions they offered followed the same principle of combining the Contestirrg/Cmisuming Femininities 33 individuai with the collective: they demonstrated both personal and organized feminist means of overcoming the probiems they had anat- omized fictionally. Pro—New Woman journaiists invoked the same discourse of feminin- ity that writers mobilized in their noveis. The ’real’ New Woman was presented as the only truly ‘womanly woman?” a ‘reformer and friend of her sex and of humanity’, she deserved to be called the ‘Best Woman?“ feminist values (independence, courage, truthfulness, self- respect, knowledge, intellect, education, strength of body and mind, selfudeterrnination, and purposefulness) were linked to traditional femi- nine traits (motherliness, domesticity, gentleness and purity): She came into the college and elevated it; into literature, and hal- lowed it; into the business world, and ennobled it. She will come into government, and purity it,- into politics, and cleanse its Stygian pool; for woman will make home-like every place she enters, and she will enter every place on this round earth . . . [Society’s] welcome of her presence and her power is to be the final test of fitness to survive. . . . The steadfast faith and loyal, patient work we are to do, in the wide fieids of reform, wili be the mightiest factor in woman’s con- tribution to the solution of the greatest problem of the English- speaking race, and will have their final significance in the thought and purpose, not that the world shall come into the home, but that the home, embodied and impersonated in its womanhood, shall go forth into the world.” The ‘sweetly womanly“ woman that emerged from this discourse of domestic 'housekeeping’39 was anything but the frightening revolu- tionary who spelt the demise of the family and the ’race’ — the two areas at the centre of public anxiety. Even New Women notorious for their radical views sometimes chose to tone down their message; thus in her 'Defence of the So-calied “Wild Women“ (1892), Caird countered Linton’s diatribe by stressing the “quiet, steady, philosophic, and genial spirit’ that marked the women’s movement.“ Caird emphasized com- radeship rather than sex antagonism, the evoiutionary rather than revolutionary nature of the movement, the saintiy striving rather than the fiercely fighting mood of its members. Authorial moderation, the adoption of a language of femininity, a disc0urse which accented the New Woman's conciliatory spirit, and the frequent recourse to expedi- ency arguments thus served the strategic purpose of disseminating and popularizing feminist concepts and ideas. The final section of this 34 New Woman Fiction chapter wiil deal with the imprint the New Woman left on popuiar thought, in particular fashitmable middle-class women’s opinions and self-image. Consumer culture and the revolting daughter The profound political impact New Woman iiction had by establishing a ’community of women readers”l was considerably aided by the reader debates fostered by the periodical press. As the concepts of femininity and feminism moved closer together, the younger generation of middle- class women were increasingly attracted to the lifestyle issues associated with the New Woman: her demand to be treated as a reasonable adult able to determine her own destiny without undue parental intervention or supervision, her wish for greater freedom of movement, her desire for increased educational opportunities, her expectation of professional fulfilment. While many of their mothers felt drawn to the New Woman’s moral discourse of social purification and regeneration, younger readers were primarily interested in questions of fashion, modernity and self-development. As the image of the independent woman gained momentum, the public discourse of the New Woman became imbued with spatial metaphors which reflected these young women’s aspirations. A fash— ionably streamlined image of the modern woman now entered the pages of popular women's magazines, with the caricature of the mannish virago making way for the sporty lady (terms no longer con— sidered a contradiction). Bursting with health, the athletic New Woman boasted eminentiy good looks and had an accompiished sense of dress, ’her figure set off to the best advantage by the new cyciing costume’.“ Many feminist writers encouraged this dual identification of the New Woman with the fashion model on the one hand and the sportswoman on the other, drawing their interviewers’ attention to their own exper- tise in the art of beautification and their keen interest in experiment— ing with the latest Rational Dress outfits. Grand’s readers, for example, learnt that ’her friends consult her taste on questions of the toilet with as much confidence as on literary matters’,“ and that she particularly enjoyed her trips to i’aris because the French were so much more modern and relaxed about lady cyclists in bloomers.‘H The bicycle had momentous repercussions on the lives and the self— perception of late-Victorian middle—class women and significantly contributed to the transformation of gender relations: '"I‘his revolution- Coiiresting/(Irmsumtrig Femininities 35 ary traveling machine changed patterns of courtship, marriage, and worir . . . ; it altered dress styles and language, exercise and education/’5 It was pronounced to be the ideal .rnode of physical recreation for schoolgirls, students and professional women.‘m Grand swore by its rmedicinal’ and recuperative powers: ’I had been . . .very iii from nervous prostration, and directly i took up riding l began to feel better. i think cycling is a perfect refreshment for brain workers/‘37 One of the major attractions for young women was that the bicycle dismantled the unpopular chaperon system and faciiitated compan— ionship between the sexes. In fact, the advent of the lady cyclist, the Lady’s Realm observed, had ‘revolutionised the pastime and endowed it with social graces’. Women had brought colour, communal life and a carnivalesque atmosphere to a sport previously marred by men’s obses- sion with speed and competition: ’ladies have introduced cyclingiab homes, musical rides, . . . flower parades’ and were at the vanguard of the new cycling clubs. Moreover, the bicycle provided an ideai oppor- tunity for women to branch out on new careers: the enterprising lady could set up as a wheelwright or cycling instructor: indeed, ’many neces- sitous gentlewomen may find it a remunerative and pleasant occupa- tion’.‘”‘ (lieinentina Black clearly had a point when she noted in 1895 that the bicycle was rdoing more for the independence of women than anything expressiy designed to that end’.“ Such popularity did cycling enjoy with women of the middie and upper classes that it could be used as a marketing pioy to sell fashion products such as hair curlers (Figure 8). Readers were informed of the latest fashions of ’Famous Beauties Who Cycle’ and of titled iadies ’unri- valled for the elegance and beauty of their cycling costurnes’, and were given details of suitable colour schemes in order to match their bicyl- ces with the season: ‘green in spring, white in summer, a tan shade, sug- gestive of fading leaves, in autumn, and in winter. . .a useful black 1nachine.""“ Invoking images of the Victorian catwalk (a fashionable London street) to stress the feminine grace of women cyciists (Figure 9), specialist magazines like the Hub humorously explored women’s empowerment and its potential repercussions on men. 'The Love of Cynthia' (a satirical story in which the hero is rejected by his beloved because of his inferior choice of bicycle) is illustrated with a drawing which features a man reduced to the size of a boy and attached to the apronstrings, as it were, of the iady cyclist (Figure 10). Faced with the threat of imminent role reversal, conservatives were apt to emphasize female helplessness: in the Punch cartoon “The Force of Habit’ (Figure E i i i 36 New Wormm Fiction tastes: rm“? W -.-, KEE S THE R N URL. Lady Cyclists now need have no fear of looking untidy with fringe out of curl. By using Bates’ Frirzetta when curiing the hair, a smart fresh appearance is obtained. Bates’ Frizzetta is invaluable when touring as well as for short rides. It has no injurious effect on the hair. Per-feed)! harmless. Simply keeps it in curl. . rm ,. (r \_.\.vvv-r....-\ «an» an n Chemists and Hairdressers ell Bates' Frizzetta. at. us. Or it can, J5 sent jfinm‘ free fw'Jrf. extra: from Hm Sale rlr’afizcr— F. W. BATES, Brooks's Bar, MANCHESTER. 8: ’Bates’ FREZETfA Keeps the Hair in Curi’ 11}, a would-be ’Diana’ is so inept at handiing her machine (which she mistakes for a horse) that she has to ask her male companion to take control. Cyclists and the cycling industry deliberateiy drew on a discourse which blurred the boundaries between feminist and feminine attributes: the divided skirt made of 'Amazon’ cloth in 1Figure 12 is advertised as ’stylish and graceful in appearance'. By contrast, conservatives, nervous of the effects on the female psyche of having rather too much freedom of movement, appealed to women cyclists’ feminine vanity and addi- tionaiiy mobilized medical arguments in their attempt to dissuade them from pursuing the sport. Cycling was declared to produce hideous defor- mities in the arms and fingers as weil as causing humpbacks and rav- aging a woman’s beauty forever.51 Just as two decades earlier, women Contesting/Cons:rmirigFemininities 37 D0 ENGLiSfi LADY CYCLIS’I‘S RIDE GRACEFULLY? AN AMERICAN EXPERT’S OPINIONS. 9: ’Do English Lady Cyclists Ride ('ii‘acefully'.” desirous of higher education had been warned of the disastrous repern cussions of academic study on their regenerative system, so now over— enthusiastic female cyciists saw themselves at imminent risk of ’netvous exhaustion', inflammation of the internal organs, appendicitis, even rchronic dysentery’.52 An emblem of the new liberty brought about by the New Woman and therefore also indicative of her moral transgres— sion, the bicycie was sometimes regarded as the yardstick for female respectability. In her autobiography Netta Syrett records how a prospec- tive colleague, about to take up a teaching position at Swansea High School, was sacked after being seen riding a bicycle on a Sunday (ST, 56). The debate on the New Woman and her demands, particularly the right to sen-development, entered the middle-class family when jour- nalist B. A. Crackanthorpe announced in 1894 that there was a ‘very large percentage of households where war, open or concealed, exists between mother and daughter“:5 Her Nineteenth Century article on The 38 New Wm‘nrrri Fiction THE LOVE OF CYNTHEA. [A Numun‘ Rou.\Vi'r..] I. “ \‘r midnight. :lnrim mlwmuri-rl ll.r='uhi. churning ilu- Hurst“. (' m it! Ida imam”. “Ami. pawl ‘9 " 51w :1 'rgll ra-ranihlmgl)‘: E'ui' her l‘uthi‘i' nus a. fierce nhl mun. who hail on mun- thun onv Ul‘l‘uhltlil F-]it>i|\.‘ll Yer} Lllliillllll) vi ill.“ imr-I'. " hear him not." :-i--.—;'mmh=d 1hr: fern-hum south. '- lint tu- will follow." she ilN-aIi-il. Ilrn'nlui clasped lwr llllL'E! lt|1|l'L‘ to his ijlls'UHl. ‘- [ :hm't thin]: ho wall." hr: said. sc<n‘lil'll|i_‘c. "l lamm ih‘ \vili." she cried. H Nor ‘ much." Hui-old assured her: “I shnl‘. see that his tyre is punctured and hi: handlebar- rlropimrl in the \wil." With EH! llilllt‘twt unpassionod cinlii-m-e she flung arms about his uni-1r. and their hurried rum}. At :imlnighl. dearest," she called, in; sin: 'lhl‘cix' him a kiss. " At midnight. darling.“ he mullet} in response. and disappeared in ihi- rapidly gathering in ilirxhi. Hi !r in si‘m'eul) mercenary to DVIJlEttll In [11v modern i'z-mler that thew mot-mung pm >tlh\\t‘l‘L‘jll-illillltf; :lu dupL-i'nent. and that the it .. .uhir-h \n-rr' In rillt)‘ Lhom henmrl Lllt- illlllw of paternal umlh and 5'1." do were hiru'lz-s. 'i'liezr-tui'c: h-t nu hurl-y through thr- «,r-muii chapter and gel iliflllf; ll) the third. lll. lithium Monti iii-wreath tho window, gazing hemclmuril. where (‘tnihia s'ut waiting for in< (all. hr: “ Darling!“ His voice that!in up- ward in u whisper. and foli upon her entranced our. " Waiting. dearest." she mur- mured, as she loaned for owr the window: i1. and peered rlowu in the my). will of [he night. 11: a moment he had thrown :\ lillif must (iii: “'11”. and Ill :muthr-i- Cm “as in l rms, ' “ Nothing on earth shall purl. us now." he said. tiereety, shutting his rlnluzhoii li~t toward the window heiirnd which the fiLLl r slept. “ Nothing, (lcélt'e‘iL. not-hilt ' ml her wintc arms clung about his nor-l; in;i§sir‘:iiiitr‘l)' EV. HAROLD hold her to his Llirobhiiig bosom for an instant. oniyr “ We mus-t fly, darling." he said, as he draw two bicycles from the darkness. “Mount “5 idn, and foiiow Lne oloso. l imou‘ the way." i-‘nr an limit-uni. lim trembling girl hesitated. then she. stopped resolutely. " Harold." she asked. suspiciously, -‘ \\'h:i-L. make. of wit ) i' is [llini “'l‘lio -\ igwng.‘ of course. darling" replied Harold. with confidence. for it. was the make he. rode, “(,ium] evening. Mr. .linlrins.” she ('Uiiil}. " You know 1 rule olliy liar-‘1?“ .-\m[ (“\uliiin. climhmi hack in: the it): 'The Love of Cynthia [A Modern Romance? Revolt of the Daughters' sparked off immediate reioinders from other iournalists and quickly turned into a debate between ’mothers’ and ’daughters' when readers began to respond to the topic. It proved such a popular issue that other papers soon followed suit. The overriding sentiment of the readers was that young middle-class women should be allowed the same opportunities for personal development as their brothers — the freedom to come and go as they wished, a iatchaeys‘L to enable them to do this, an end to the chapcron systemfi the experi- Coiiresiing/Cmrsrmiing Femininirfr’s 39 wimp 55’ THE FORCE 0F HABIT. His: Diana (0. mun-r}. “Oil, JMJK, ['3! tllSlL'l‘Mtl Tins Trust: is umsu To any n ‘i'misa norm-n I’IGSI Do YOU rith Lmnlso IT ras'l‘i“ 1'1: "the Force of Habit’ ence of earning their own livelihoodf30 and even a period of Win-idea'- join-6:5? ’They are young. They are vital . . .They desire ardentiy to try things on their own account . . .They pray passionately to he aliowed to travel over so short a way alone.’58 Crackanthorpe pieaded with mothers to tell their daughters the facts of iife and then to trust them to make their own decisions:W M. Haweis argued that 'the problem of revolt would be solved’ if girls were given the same opportunities as boys to develop into healthy, autonomous, fulfilied individuals: 'the superfluous energy. . .wrrrits its proper outlet. . .The solution is work.""’ “A great deai of the ill-health of our delicate girls arises from repression of their young energy’, one sympathetic mother confirmed, ’The boys, too, would be hysterical if their youth were hedged in with so many conventional restraints that there would be no room left for self- restraint."’i Daughters expressed their bitter resentment of being kept in a cage of conventions, which made them liabie to rush into marriage.‘92 Conservative writers used the same arguments as in their debate with New Women: the ‘romance’ would go out of life if girls were given a freedom for which they had neither 'the constitution nor capacity’; 40 New Woman Fiction GOOD NEWS FOR LADY CYCLISTS. WWW...— UR readers will no doubt be glad to know that Mr, ]. Pollard, manufacmrcr of the \relliknown Richmond Divided Skirt (Lusttmms, is now making these popular suits in his far—filmed Amazon cloth zit one guinea each. They are stylish and gr'scetui in almcm‘ancc, and the most useful shaped cycling skirts conceivable. 'I‘he costume is equal in up pearance to a “Fest—End suit costing three guinea. being well cut .antl tailorimndc thronghout. Ladies should write for patterns and designs and self-n'icasuremcnt forms {from and need not be re- turned) of these and other costumes From 109;. Oil. times. Any of our readers ruquiriuga uscl‘ulcycllng skirt ought to know that, being near the and of the season, Mr. Pollard is offering his stock‘of ready— made Richmond Divided Skirts at 135. 6th in which price you can have black, fawn, or grey alpaca, grey, rawn, or git-ion covert coating, and almost every shade in Amazon cloth. They are marvellous value, and our friends should send postal order at once, or; coiour required, lcngth of skirt in front, and sizc of waist. Address: Pollard, Costume Ma'tnufncturer, Bradford. .12: ‘Good News for Lady Cyclists’ nothing wouid make up for the loss of their innocence.“ The most interw esting contribution, from Alys W. i—‘earsall Smith, echoed the sentiments expressed in Fiorence Nightingale’s Crisinhdru:"4 unmarried girls {are} ...slowly but surely withering in ideas and interests, and [their] lives {are} becoming less and less fruitful and more and more limited every day...These giris are withering because they are not ailowcd to iivc their own lives, but are always compelied to iive the lives of other people. T hcy have no chance of self—development, no work or pursuits of their own; their especiai talents are left to lie dormant, and their best powers are allowed no sphere of action. They must continually crush back the aspira— tions of their own natures, and must stifle the cry of their own individnality."S Court’sting/Consuming Femininities 41 Self-development, purposeful work and an object in life, independence, the absence of which leads to physical and mental ill-health — Smith’s words reflect the aspirations and experiences of many New Woman characters. Feminist writers thus pinpointed the iatc—Victonan equiva- lent of Betty Friedan’s ’probiem with no name’,““ giving their readers the words and concepts with which to express their dissatisfaction with traditional role expectations. The “Revolt of the Daughters’ debate shows that feminist ideas had entered the mainstream. The political battle for women's rights had become an individualized struggle for personal freedom —- but these dcvciopments within the context of the family had an enormous impact as they prepared the ideological ground for more radical ideas. For a while, even confirmed anti-feminists like Arabelia Kenealy felt happy to "Thank heaven for the New Woman!” Years later she was to realize that the feminist “extremist” whose demise she had announced somewhat prematurely in her laudatio on the New Woman was not as cphcrnerai as she thought (F8155). For the time being, however, the New Woman had achieved an unconditional success with the mainstream public. This chapter has, then, suggested that New Woman fiction and jour- nalism played a major part in contributing to the complex social changes which led to a redefinition of gender mics and a consoiidation of the notion of women’s rights at the turn of the century. liven if the mainstream version of the New Woman may at times have looked iike mere lipstick feminism, the wide diffusion of feminist ideas had impor- tant repercussions, paving the way for the success of the suffragettcs in the first two decades of the twentieth century. To promote their ideas New Woman writers used a complex strategy of feminization. First, by turning the tables on the anti-feminists who masculinized and pathologized the New Woman, they emphasized her femininity, her ladylike appearance and manners, her sex appeal in order to 'seducc’ {and convert to feminism} fictional characters and real~ life readers alike. Secondly, New Woman writers empioyed a discourse of feminine moderation, tacticaliy understating the radical potential of their political beliefs and pointing to the expediency of helping women to help men improve the conditions of human life. They also utilized and feminized contemporary scientific discourses by linking feminism to evolution. 'l'hirdly, New Woman writers feminized feminist ideas about female independence and self-determination by associating them with traditional womanly, maternal and domestic virtues. New Woman writers were self-consciousiy using a sophisticated dis- course of femininity to subvert conservative notions of femininity, yet 42 New Wei-nun Fiction their strategy far exceeded irigaray’s concept of mimicry. instead of ’per- formirrg’ patriarchal ideas about Woman, they redefined Woman, radi- cally revising male stereotypes and advancing a new, femalewinspired, ideal, that of the feminine feminist. Even more crucially, they combined their rhetoric of femininity with a political discourse on women’s rights. With the intention of distancing themselves and their ohiectives from the caricature that had been constructed, New Woman writers evolved a discourse of difference which ultimately led to the emergence of what we would now describe as feminist theory. Thus while the feminists of the 18505 through 1.8705 wrote texts which defined the problem by launching a discussion about women’s rights, describing the various ways in which women were oppressed, and advocating measures to end social and sexual injustice, the New Woman defined herself, positioning herself within the larger feminist movement and generating a critical analysis of patriarchy. While this chapter concentrated on the debate between women, the next one examines New Woman fiction in its relation to contemporary literary and social movements dominated by men. 2 Keynotes and Discords illn fiction there has not been, until comparatively recently, any such thing as a distinctively woman’s standpoint. . . . But in the last year or two the Modern Woman has changed all that. Woman at last has found Woman interesting to herself, and she has studied .her, painted her, and analysed her as if she had an independent existence . . . W. T. Stead, ’The Novel of the Modern Woman’ 0894}! it is only lately that woman has reaiiy begun to turn herself inside out, as it were, and to put herself into her books . . .No man, were he the greatest genius alive, could write them, and in them the true spirit of feminism dwells. Hugh E. M. Stuttield, ‘The Psychology of Feminism’ (i897)2 As the novel heroine of the New Woman we have already been made extremely familiar with her. . . . She has only to strike a vibrating ’key-note’ on her seductive lyre, and behold [tyrant man} lies groveiling at her feet! . . . in short, she is ’Grand,’ every ’lota’ of her! M. Eastwood, 'The New Woman in Fiction and in Fact’ {1894)3 The most conspicuous ‘keynotes’ of New Woman fiction, at least for its fate-Victorian readership, were the gender and sexuai politics of the writers: whether they welcomed or detested feminism, contemporary critics agreed that it was the ‘Modern Woman’ from whose pen the new fiction was springing. The stability provided by the concurrence of gender and genre is misleading, however, for the attempt to define the ...
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