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Introduction: Many Voices, Many Issues

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Part of the Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture book series (PNWC)


Immersed in a tumultuous culture at the fin de siècle, New Woman poets advanced significant, opportune, and compelling perspectives in addressing public matters and articulating personal concerns, with the boundary between them often blurred. In so doing, these writers contested the intellectual and behavioral constraints that plagued Victorian women, exposing the many ways in which they were deprived of fulfilling lives. Moreover, the poets sought to raise awareness of injustices that hindered society at large by fostering inequality and misery among the many disadvantaged Victorians. As Aurora Leigh argues in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s seminal verse-narrative about the eponymous protagonist, poets need to “[e]xert a double vision” that enables them to see “near things” and “distant things” by concentrating on the contemporary world (Book V, ll. 184, 185, 186). “Their sole work is to represent the age,” Aurora asserted, “this live, throbbing age” and “[n]ever flinch” from creating “living art, / Which thus presents and thus records true life” (Book V, ll. 202, 203, 221–22). New Woman poetry irrefutably evidences that such advice was deeply inculcated, cultivated, and heeded.

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-031-19765-9_1
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  1. 1.

    As Sally Ledger remarks, “[T]he figure of the New Woman was utterly central to the literary culture of the fin-de-siecle years” (The New Woman, 10).

  2. 2.

    Charles G. Harper, Revolted Woman, 2; Eliza Lynn Linton, “The Wild Women as Social Insurgents,” 596.

  3. 3.

    Linton, “The Wild Women,” 604.

  4. 4.

    Havelock Ellis, New Spirit, 9; “Character Note: The New Woman,” 366; Ledger, The New Woman, 9.

  5. 5.

    Nat Arling, “What is the Role of the ‘New Woman?’” 576; M. Eastwood, “The New Woman in Fiction and in Fact,” 377; A. Amy Bulley, “The Political Evolution of Women,” 1, 8; H. E. Harvey, “The Voice of Woman,” 196; Herbert Jamieson, “The Modern Woman,” 572.

  6. 6.

    Sarah Grand, “The New Aspect of the Woman Question,” 271.

  7. 7.

    Grand, “The New Aspect,” 272; Ouida, “The New Woman,” 612; Sydney Grundy, The New Woman, 299, 305, 300.

  8. 8.

    Linton, “The Wild Women,” 605; “Character Note,” 365; “Manly Women,” 757; “Sex versus Sex,” 58; “The ‘New Woman’ in Her Relation to the ‘New Man,’” 335.

  9. 9.

    Hugh E. M. Stutfield, “The Psychology of Feminism,” 115; Stutfield, “Tommyrotics,” 836, 844; James Ashcroft Noble, “The Fiction of Sexuality,” 490–91; Margaret Oliphant, “The Anti-Marriage League,” 136; Edmund Gosse, “The Decay of Literary Taste,” 118.

  10. 10.

    T. S. Clouston, “Female Education from a Medical Point of View,” 224; Grant Allen, “Plain Words on the Woman Question,” 453; Karl Pearson, The Ethic of Freethought, 360, 355; Harper, Revolted Woman, 27.

  11. 11.

    “The Higher Education of Women,” 157, 161; Helen McKerlie, “The Lower Education of Women,” 119; Hewitt, “‘The New Woman’ in Her Relation to the ‘New Man,” 337.

  12. 12.

    Pearson, The Ethic of Freethought,” 370; Walter Besant, “Candour in English Fiction,” 7; Stutfield, “Tommyrotics,” 835, 836; Janet E. Hogarth, “Literary Degenerates,” 591; Oliphant, “The Anti-Marriage League,” 144.

  13. 13.

    Grand, The Modern Man and Maid, 29; Harvey, “The Voice of Woman,” 193; Julia M. A. Hawksley, “A Young Woman’s Right: Knowledge,” 316; Arling, “What is the Role of the ‘New Woman?’” 576.

  14. 14.

    Several of the authors interacted at salons, observes Ana I. Parejo Vadillo, and “[t]he sheer variety and number of salons that emerged during the 1880s and 1890s show their importance at the fin de siècle.” Participants included Rosamund Marriott Watson, Alice Meynell, A. Mary F. Robinson, Augusta Webster, Dora Sigerson, Dollie Radford, and Mathilde Blind (23). Poets “moved freely from one salon to another,” Vadillo remarks (“New Woman Poets and the Culture of the Salon at the Fin de Siècle,” 31).

  15. 15.

    The meanings of flowers were a popular topic addressed by writers of the period. See, for example, The Language of Flowers: A History, by Beverly Seaton for information on the floral vocabulary.

  16. 16.

    Naden was an ardent advocate of education, which “is given us that we may think for ourselves, feel for ourselves, act for ourselves; why then should we not speak for ourselves?” (quoted in Poetry of the 1890s, edited by R. K. R. Thornton and Marion Thain, 25).

  17. 17.

    As Virginia Blain observes about the stanza, the moon cannot produce its own illumination and it lacks its own atmosphere, which prevents sound from traveling and thus precludes the transmission of music. The reference to “hosts” invokes the underworld and positions the moon as “queen of the dead” (Victorian Women Poets, 296).

  18. 18.

    As Thornton and Thain’s Poetry of the 1890s comments, “the mirror imagery” adopted by Naden enabled her “to complain about the damaging role women were expected to adopt in relation to men,” which serves as “a leitmotif of women’s writing of this period” (26).

  19. 19.

    Bonnie J. Robinson considers “In the Toy Shop” an example of work that “sought to uplift the gifts of nature overthrown by man, feminine gifts of will-power, anger, and animation which were deemed ‘unfeminine.’” Kendall’s poem, “[a]ccepting the equation of ‘little girls’ and ‘dolls, … nevertheless overturns this equation” (“‘Individable Incorporate’: Poetic Trends in Women Writers, 1890–1918,” 8).

  20. 20.

    Robinson hosted an especially popular salon with many attendants, comments Vadillo. “Because of Robinson’s fame as a poet, the salon was visited by eminent women poets, such as Mathilde Blind, Amy Levy, Louise S. Bevington, Augusta Webster, Emily Pfeiffer,” and others (“New Woman Poets and the Culture of the Salon at the Fin de Siècle,” 27).

  21. 21.

    James R. Moore, “The Erotics of Evolution: Constance Naden and Hylo-Idealism,” 248.

  22. 22.

    For information on the nebular theory, see Marilyn Bailey Ogilvie’s “Robert Chambers and the Nebular Hypothesis.”

  23. 23.

    “Anodos” is a Greek term that carries such meanings as enlightenment, an ascent, and a wanderer. “Anodos” also was the name of a character appearing in the 1858 Phantastes by George MacDonald.

  24. 24.

    Leeanne Marie Richardson, “Naturally Radical: The Subversive Poetics of Dollie Radford,” 112. After Radford’s A Light Load was published, Richardson comments that “Radford’s poetic dreams were deferred, or at least diverted into another channel. ‘What Song Shall I Sing’ narrates Radford’s absorption with the duties of motherhood” (“Dollie Radford,” 195).

  25. 25.

    Mona Caird, The Daughters of Danaus, 341.

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Murphy, P. (2023). Introduction: Many Voices, Many Issues. In: Poetry of the New Woman. Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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