«Verfasserin Julia Lackermayer angestrebter akademischer Grad Magistra der Anglistik und Amerikanistik (Mag.phil) Wien, im Oktober 2008 ...»
Man, first published in 1871, Darwin ascribed divergent character traits to men and women: ‘Man is more courageous, pugnacious and energetic than woman, and has more inventive genius’ (Darwin, 557). Woman, on the other hand, seems to differ from man in mental disposition, chiefly in her greater tenderness and less selfishness. […] Woman, owning to her maternal instincts, displays those qualities towards her infants in an eminent degree. (Darwin, 563) Another eminent character who argued for the differentiation of sex roles was the philosopher Herbert Spencer. He held the opinion that it was the result of humankind’s adjustment to social survival. Moreover, according to him, the more a society was developed the greater was the sexual difference between men and women. A further point of his argumentation was that a woman’s individual intellectual and physical growth stopped earlier than a man’s, who saved his energies for reproduction.45 In the field of psychology, George Romanes, starting his argumentation from Darwin’s physiological differentiations, argued that differences between the sexes concerned mental faculties such as intellect, emotion, and will. In his 1887 essay Mental Differences between Men and Women, Romanes stated that a woman’s intellect was less developed than that of a man and that she lacked willpower, concentration and proper judgement. He granted, though, that female senses were more advanced.
Cf. Lewis, Women in England, 84.
- 22 were to a large extent motivated by theories of a distinction between the sexes as well. Lewis argues that [t]he physician’s approach to female illness exemplified the strong influence of theories of sexual difference and the nature of their implications for the position of women in society. By the 1880s nearly all female disorders were ascribed to uterine malfunction, in accordance with medical and scientific preoccupations with the over-riding importance of female biology. Moreover, female well-being was defined in terms congruent with both women’s reproductive function and ideal feminine behaviour. (Lewis, Women in England, 85) An ideal feminine behaviour and healthy development was associated with a woman’s attachment to her particular realm and her demonstration of moral virtue expressed by ‘passivity, a love of home, children and domestic duties and […] sexual innocence and absence of sexual feelings’ (Lewis, Women in England, 86).
A more detailed discussion of the relationship between female patients and doctors will follow in the chapter dealing with William Somerset Maugham’s play Penelope, where the eponymous character’s husband is a physician.47 Women’s primary task was to provide a refuge for their husbands and children and to fill it with peace, beauty and emotional security.48 Lewis also points out that the emphasis on domestic values was due to a decreasing status of religion in everyday
[d]uring the mid-and late nineteenth centuries the wife and mother at home became doubly important as a moral force because evolutionary ideas had shaken the religious faith of so many. The hearth itself became sacred, and the chief prop of a moral order no longer buttressed by belief.
(Lewis, Women in England, 81) Furthermore, the home was generally perceived as a kind of safe haven to counterbalance ‘the rapid economic, political and social change outside and […] the competitive values of the market place’ (Lewis, Women in England, 113). In the second half of the 19th century, England had to defend its international leadership as foreign competition grew fiercer. Consequently, the implication of this concept of the family as a form of microcosm of society, was that a stable Cf. Penelope, I, 10.
Cf. Lewis, Women in England, 81.
- 23 home would also ensure the stability along with the security, prosperity, progress and order of the state.49 Likewise, Samuel Smiles, a Victorian author especially
known for his books on the virtue of self-help50, stated:
As a result, it could be argued that two different concepts were inherent in those Victorian notions of the home. On the one hand, it was generally understood as a place that helped to maintain the stability of the state. On the other hand, it played an important role in securing national progress and success. It could be argued that the theories of separate spheres and the intrinsic binary opposition of the sexes are the main reason why these two concepts of home are not contradictory.
Women’s task was to uphold stability, their realm was the home, which was meant to be the secure haven from which men engaged in their duty to assure progress. Similarly, Mary Poovey argues that [t]he rhetorical separation of spheres and the image of domesticated, feminized morality were crucial to the consolidation of bourgeois power partly because linking morality to a figure (rhetorically) immune to selfinterest and competition integral to economic success preserved virtue without inhibiting productivity. (Poovey, 10) It is again important to particularly stress the fact that this set of principles and ideals primarily concerned English middle-class society. This aspect is also
emphasised by Elizabeth Langland, who points out that the duties of a middleclass wife could to some extent be compared to the staging of a play:
The bourgeois wife must fulfil a range of representational functions. A lower-class wife, a working girl, would not be sufficiently conversant with the semiotics of middle-class life and could not, therefore, guarantee her husband’s place in society. The home, often figured as a haven with its attending angel, can be decoded so that we recognize it as a theatre for the staging of a family’s social position, a staging that depends on a group of prescribed domestic practices.’ (Langland, 9)
3.2. The Fallen Woman The Fallen Woman can be commonly understood as a form of deviance, especially sexual deviance, from the feminine ideal of the Angel in the House.
Even though the term ‘fallen woman’ has clearly sexual connotations it is not simply a synonym for ‘prostitute’. The idea of ‘fall’ implies to some extent that the woman has been respectable at one point and that her deviant behaviour has led to her exclusion from reputable society. This has the further implication that it is a class-specific term as the Fallen Woman comes from a middle-class background whilst the prostitute is usually a member of the working-classes.51 A Fallen Woman can generally be considered as having committed an act of adultery. Unlike the prostitute, her sexual activities, however, did not contribute to her income and, consequently, an increase of independence. Quite contrarily, as Nead argues, [a] woman’s ‘fall’ from virtue was frequently attributed to seduction and betrayal which set the scene for her representation as victim. Most importantly, the victimized fallen woman mobilized none of the connotations of power and independence; her deviancy did not involve money and thus, to a certain degree, she retained her femininity, that is she remained powerless and dependent. (Nead, 95-96) Female adultery did not only mean a disruption of the home as a place of virtue and stability, but also disturbance of society as a whole. The consequence of this attitude was that ‘within official forms of public representation female adultery was frequently identified as the most transgressive form of sexual deviancy’ (Nead, 48). Moreover, even one single act of infidelity on a woman’s side was largely considered as a permanent fall from virtue. An important aspect of the prevalent assumptions about female sexuality was the belief that the effects of sexually deviant behaviour were to a large degree unalterable and irrevocable.52 ‘The static “once fallen, always fallen” maxim dictated that a woman need make only one sexual mistake to be branded permanently fallen’ (Logan, 17). This notion and its consequence, namely the drawing of a clear-cut boundary between
the permitted and the forbidden, proved to be another factor involved in the dynamics of the stability of society.
3.3. The New Woman The Eternal Feminine is in process of change, and the woman of political and social activity will be different from the domestic woman, no doubt, just as palaeolithic man differs from its neolithic brother, but she will not be any the less Woman… Let us watch the modern woman; no longer doll-like, she is now energetic and assured; not less beautiful … This evolution of woman is inevitable. When everything in the modern world is changing, can woman remain unchanged? (Jean Finot, translated in Votes for Women (1911), quoted in Spectacle of Woman, 182) The New Woman can be said to have emerged from the ongoing changes that took place in society towards the end of the 19th century when the ideal of the Angel in the House proved to be less and less retainable. The New Woman stands for a development away from the ‘womanly woman’ as she demands a say in the public sphere as well. According to Rebecca Stott, [t]he New Woman […] comes to refer to a new type of woman emerging from the changing social and economic conditions of the late nineteenth century: she is a woman who challenges dominant morality, and who begins to enter new areas of employment and education. (Stott, viii) Moreover, the New Woman did not only differ from the compliant feminine ideal of domestic womanhood by claiming a right to education, suffrage and employment, she also had a different attitude towards her outward appearance and public conduct. She cut her hair, smoked and began to wear less hampering clothes. She was figuratively and literally able to move more freely than the generations of women before her. She ‘sought to travel unchaperoned, visit the theatre and music hall, read what [she] wished and take part in sports and games, notably cycling’ (Rubinstein, xi). She did not wear starched petticoats and tightly laced corsets, as the crinoline had disappeared by the 1870s and the bustle by the 1880s, but typically wore a tailored costume or a combination of skirt and
- 26 blouse.53 With the rise of the popularity of cycling, she even started to dress in trousers or ‘bloomers’, basically merely for practical reasons because the long skirts had repeatedly been one of the main reasons for accidents and, consequently, injury and embarrassment.54
3.3.1. The Birth of the New Woman
‘New Woman’, as an actual term is said to have been coined in 1894, when it was first rather generally used in an essay by the radical novelist and social purist Sarah Grand, published in the North American Review.55 The term was soon capitalised and taken up in a derogative way by ‘Ouida’, the pen name of the writer Louise Ramé.56 In her article, Grand emphasised that women underwent a process of awakening in which they came to realise that they were entitled to the same position in society as men. She scrutinized that the new woman […] had been sitting apart in silent contemplation all these years, thinking and thinking, until at last she solved the problem and proclaimed for herself what was wrong with Home-is-the-Woman’sSphere, and prescribed the remedy. (Grand, 142) Moreover, Grand pointed out that men in general would not be pleased with these developments. Patricia Marks argues that Grand’s article was particularly attacking men for their desire to maintain the status quo and to generally uphold two different types of women, ‘the “cow-woman” (the household drudge) and the “scum-woman” (the prostitute) for their convenience’ (Marks, 11).
Ledger maintains that the primary impetus for Grand’s article was the double standard involved in bourgeois Victorian marriages whereby sexual virtue was demanded from the wife but not from the husband.57 This form of hypocrisy characteristic of the relationship between husband and wife at that time will later on come up again in a discussion of St. John Ervine’s play Jane Clegg.
Cf. Rubinstein, 214.
Cf. Rubinstein, 217.
Cf. Ledger, The New Woman, 2; Nelson, ix.
Cf. Rubinstein, 15f.
Cf. Ledger, The New Woman, 20.
- 27 Ouida, then, described the New Women as ‘unmitigated bores’ (Ouida, 153-154).
She criticised them for their supposed lack of humour and their inclination to be more interested in public life, education and sports than in their roles as wives and mothers, which was to be their proper vocation.58 From the moment this particular issue of the North American Review was published in Great Britain in May 1894, ‘the new woman became a stock phrase at the tip of every journalistic pen’ (Rubinstein, 16). Even though it was a term that predominantly haunted the press at the beginning of its coinage, New Woman characters also found their way into novels and plays of that time rather quickly.
One of the first writers to employ them was Sydney Grundy. His play The New Woman, first staged highly successfully in September 1894,59 will be discussed in more detail at a later point of this thesis.
3.3.2. Defining the New Woman
Since the New Woman can be seen as having emerged from a combination of various transformations in different fields, such as education, politics, philosophy and employment, it is indeed difficult to give a clear-cut of the term. This elusiveness of the term existed from the very moment it emerged. As Olive Schreiner, a South-African born English writer who was herself considered to be
one of the first New Women, wrote: