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Woman in the Nineteenth Century

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

Abstract

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

Keywords

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.

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Notes and References

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Copyright information

© Elizabeth Allen 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elizabeth Allen

There are no affiliations available

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