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The New Woman

Clare Mendes

in Victorian Literature

ISBN: 9780199799558
Published online March 2011 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0045
The New Woman

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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.

Article.  10500 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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