New Woman


New Woman
For Bolesław Prus's 1893 novel, see The New Woman.

The New Woman was a feminist ideal that emerged in the late 19th century. The New Woman pushed the limits set by male-dominated society, especially as modeled in the plays of Norwegian Henrik Ibsen (1828–1906). "The New Woman sprang fully armed from Ibsen's brain," according to a joke by Max Beerbohm (1872–1956).[1] New Women were active in the Suffragette movement and were disappointed by the emergence of the frivolous flapper in the 1920s.

Contents

Literature

Literary discussions of the expanding potential for women in English society date back at least to Maria Edgeworth's Belinda (1801) and Elizabeth Barrett's Aurora Leigh (1856), which explored a woman's plight between conventional marriage and radical possibility that a woman could become an independent artist. In drama, the late nineteenth century saw such "New Woman" plays as Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House (1879) and Hedda Gabler (1890), Henry Arthur Jones's play The Case of Rebellious Susan (1894) and George Bernard Shaw's controversial Mrs. Warren's Profession (1893) and Candida (1898).

In fiction, New Woman writers were Olive Schreiner, Annie Sophie Cory (Victoria Cross), Sarah Grand, Mona Caird, George Egerton, Ella D'Arcy and Ella Hepworth Dixon. Some examples of New Woman literature are Victoria Cross's Anna Lombard (1901), Dixon's The Story of a Modern Woman and H. G. Wells's Ann Veronica (1909).

Kate Chopin's The Awakening (1899) also deserves mention, especially within the context of narratives derived from Flaubert's Madame Bovary (1856) both of which chronicle a woman's doomed search for independence and self realization through sexual experimentation.

The emergence of the fashion-oriented and party-going flapper in the 1920s marks the end of the new woman era.

Quotation

[…] The finest achievement of the new woman has been personal liberty. This is the foundation of civilization; and as long as any one class is watched suspiciously, even fondly guarded, and protected, so long will that class not only be weak, and treacherous, individually, but parasitic, and a collective danger to the community. Who has not heard wives commended for wheedling their husbands out of money, or joked because they are hopelessly extravagant? As long as caprice and scheming are considered feminine virtues, as long as man is the only wage-earner, doling out sums of money, or scattering lavishly, so long will women be degraded, even if they are perfectly contented, and men are willing to labor to keep them in idleness!

Although individual women from pre-historic times have accomplished much, as a class they have been set aside to minister to men's comfort. But when once the higher has been tried, civilization repudiates the lower. Men have come to see that no advance can be made with one half-humanity set apart merely for the functions of sex; that children are quite liable to inherit from the mother, and should have opportunities to inherit the accumulated ability and culture and character that is produced only by intellectual and civil activity. The world has tried to move with men for dynamos, and "clinging" women impeding every step of progress, in arts, science, industry, professions, they have been a thousand years behind men because forced into seclusion. They have been over-sexed. They have naturally not been impressed with their duties to society, in its myriad needs, or with their own value as individuals.

The new woman, in the sense of the best woman, the flower of all the womanhood of past ages, has come to stay — if civilization is to endure. The sufferings of the past have but strengthened her, maternity has deepened her, education is broadening her — and she now knows that she must perfect herself if she would perfect the race, and leave her imprint upon immortality, through her offspring or her works.

Winnifred Harper Cooley: The New Womanhood (New York, 1904) 31f.

References

See also

Further reading

  • A New Woman Reader, ed. Carolyn Christensen Nelson (Broadview Press: 2000) (ISBN 1-55111-295-7) (contains the text of Sydney Grundy's 1894 satirical comedy actually entitled The New Woman)
  • Martha H. Patterson: Beyond the Gibson Girl: Reimagining the American New Woman, 1895-1915 (University of Illinois Press: 2005) (ISBN 0-252-03017-6)
  • Sheila Rowbotham: A Century of Women. The History of Women in Britain and the United States (Penguin Books: 1999) (ISBN 0-14-027902-4), Chapters 1-3.
  • Patterson, Martha H. The American New Woman Revisited. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2008.


External links


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