The woman who did, didn't, and wouldn't: gender- and genre-bending in the new woman novel

Thumbnail Image
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
University of Alabama Libraries

By the mid-1800s, it had become abundantly clear that there was a surplus of women in both Britain and America. Evident in the 1851 British census, this excess presented a problem: what was society to do with the overflow of women? Out of this debate evolved a literature that addressed the so-called New Woman, a questionable figure who challenged the rigid norms of Victorian conventions. Daring authors of New Woman novels explored other roles for women as alternatives to marriage and motherhood. The 1890s particularly saw a proliferation of New Woman novels, in which the standard heroine of this literary trend was educated, independent, and often practiced sexual freedom. Though New Women novels of the 1890s encompassed a variety of topics and lifestyles, contemporary H.E.M. Stutfield, an antagonist of the genre, distinguished New Women writers as belonging to one of two subgeneric groups: the purity school and the neurotic school. Stutfield applied these schools in a way that limited the possibility of both the New Woman novel and its heroine; it only takes a sampling of the New Woman genre to observe the futility of Stutfield's classification. As an intertextual triptych of responses to demographically-driven changes in late-century norms of gender, The Woman Who Did, The Woman Who Didn't, and The Woman Who Wouldn't provide an excellent case study in the utility and limitations of literary taxonomy by genre. By examining these novels through the lens of genre theory, I will show that New Woman authors were aware of and experimental with modes of genre in the same way they offered different approaches to gender.

Electronic Thesis or Dissertation