Woman in the Nineteenth Century

  • Elizabeth Allen
Part of the Macmillan Studies in American Literature book series (SAL)


The popular idea of the American girl was one which emerged in the context of a Victorian ideology of the feminine which was similar on both sides of the Atlantic. Central was the idea of ‘true womanhood’.1 This was not totally new, nor did it deny the range of feminine attributes, or signifieds, from earlier periods, but the emphasis was different. Idealisation of women became heavily domestic in the nineteenth century. In the aftermath of the industrial revolution, there was a growing contrast between the position of working class women, increasingly employed outside the family, and middle class women (not just a tiny aristocratic élite) sitting in the newly conceptualised home with nothing to do. One can see as at least partly resulting from this leisure both the growing demands for women’s greater economic freedom and legal equality, and an increasing emphasis on any ideas and reflections at all levels which justified the status quo and persuaded women to remain in the private world of the home.2 To rationalise this domesticity, the notion of the separate spheres of the sexes was popular, spheres which were ‘naturally’ different but equal in importance (though not in reward):

The nineteenth century was confident that it knew the difference between the sexes and that these differences were total and innate. Women were inherently more religious, modest, passive, submissive and domestic than men, and were happier doing tasks, learning lessons and playing games that harmonised with their nature.3


Nineteenth Century American Woman Moral Idealism Moral Virtue Moral Consciousness 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes and References

  1. 2.
    See J. Mitchell, Psychoanalysis and Feminism (Harmondsworth, 1975) pp. 410–16.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    L. Appignanesi, Femininity and the Creative Imagination (London, 1973) p. 2.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    K. Milieu, Sexual Politics (New York, 1971) p. 89.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    M. Praz, The Hero in Eclipse in Victorian Fiction, trans. A. Davidson (London, 1956 ) p. 116.Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    C. Patmore, The Angel in the House (London, 1866) p. 28.Google Scholar
  6. 13.
    J. S. Mill, The Subjection of Women (London, 1869 ) p. 27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 15.
    N. Baym, Woman’s Fiction: A Guide to Novels By and About Women in America, 1820–1870 (Ithaca,1978).Google Scholar
  8. 20.
    R. W. Emerson, ‘The Young American’, in Nature, Addresses and Lectures (London, 1903 ) p. 366.Google Scholar
  9. 22.
    A. de Tocqueville, Democracy in America P. Bradley (ed.), trans H. Reeve, and further corrected by F. Bowen, 2 vols (New York, 1945) vol. 2, p. 214.Google Scholar
  10. 23.
    J. Bryce, The American Commonwealth, rev. edn, 2 vols (New York, 1910 ) vol. 2, P. 795.Google Scholar
  11. 24.
    R. Kipling, American Notes (New York, 1891) p. 28.Google Scholar
  12. 26.
    N. Baym, ‘Portrayal of Women in American Literature 1790–1870’, in M. Springer (ed.) What Manner of Woman? (Oxford, 1978 ) p. 213.Google Scholar
  13. 27.
    E. Earnest, The American Eve in Fact and Fiction (Illinois, 1974 ).Google Scholar
  14. 32.
    H. James, The American Scene (New York, 1907) pp. 332–3.Google Scholar
  15. 33.
    D. Boorstin, The Americans: The National Experience (New York, 1965) p. 92.Google Scholar
  16. 36.
    J. Fenimore Cooper, Notions of the Americans Picked up by a Travelling Bachelor, 2 vols (New York, 1963 ) vol. 1, p. 193.Google Scholar
  17. 41.
    P. J. Eakin, The New England Girl ( Athens, Georgia, 1976 ) p. 221.Google Scholar
  18. 43.
    W. D. Howells, Heroines of Fiction, 2 vols (London, 1901 ) vol. 1, p. 12.Google Scholar
  19. 45.
    J. Goode, ‘Woman and the Literary Text’, in J. Mitchell and A. Oakley (eds), The Rights and Wrongs of Women (Harmondsworth, 1976 ), p. 218.Google Scholar
  20. 46.
    G. Allen, The Woman Who Did (London, 1895) p. 56.Google Scholar
  21. 49.
    G. Meredith, The Egoist, 3 vols (London, 1879 ) vol. 1, p. 212.Google Scholar
  22. 52.
    C. G. Burke, ‘Report from Paris: Women’s Writing and the Women’s Movement’, in Signs, vol. 3, no. 4 (1978) p. 853.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 55.
    See P. Thomson, The Victorian Heroine: A Changing Ideal, 1837–1873 (London, 1956 ).Google Scholar
  24. 56.
    P. Rahv, ‘Paleface and Redskin’, in Image and Idea, rev. edn (London, 1957 ).Google Scholar
  25. 57.
    L. Fiedler, Love and Death in the American Novel, 2nd edn (London, 1966 ).Google Scholar
  26. 58.
    M. Rugoff, Prudey and Passion: Sexuality in Victorian America (London, 1972) P. 97.Google Scholar
  27. 59.
    W. Wasserstrom, The Heiress of all the Ages (Minneapolis, 1959) p. 24.Google Scholar
  28. 61.
    E. Wharton, The Age of Innocence (London, 1966), p. 55.Google Scholar
  29. 62.
    W. D. Howells, The Lady of the Aroostook (Boston, 1879 ), pp. 229–30.Google Scholar
  30. 63.
    E.J. Sabiston, ‘The Prison of Womanhood’, in Comparative Literature 25 (1973), P. 338.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 64.
    H. Adams, Esther (New York, 1961) p. 231.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Elizabeth Allen 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elizabeth Allen

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations