The Woman Question

  • Barbara Prentis


‘Life has taken on a new unloveliness’, wrote Mrs Roy Devereux in 1895, ‘and the least beautiful thing therein is the New Woman’.1 She was talking in, and about, an age in which ‘the Girton Girl and the Lady Doctor became recognized sub-groups’2 of a new feminine species, among whom matters such as ‘venereal disease, contraception, divorce and adultery were made the common talking points’.3 The enormity of the change, and of the shock it produced is best appreciated when we recall that little more than thirty years had elapsed since John Stuart Mill had published his pungent criticism of a society that not only tolerated but even insisted upon such invidious distinctions between the sexes that turned women into virtual slaves. The female sex, said Mill, was brought up to believe that its ‘ideal of character’4 was the very opposite to that of men’s, ‘not self-will, and government by self-control, but submission, and yielding to the control of others. All the moralities tell them that it is the duty of women, and all the current sentimentalities that it is their nature, to live for others; to make complete abnegation of themselves, and to have no life but in their affections’.5


Woman Writer Leader Article Beautiful Thing Woman Question Romantic Literature 
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© Barbara Prentis 1988

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  • Barbara Prentis

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