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ENGLISH 840 [274]

THE WOMAN QUESTION IN VICTORIAN ENGLAND

 

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bullet2.gif (1296 bytes) COURSE SYLLABUS (Fall 1999)

bullet2.gif (1296 bytes) BACKGROUND MATERIALS

bullet2.gif (1296 bytes) BACKGROUND NOTES FOR AUTHORS INCLUDED IN COURSE PAK

bullet2.gif (1296 bytes) SELECTED BACKGROUND READING

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COURSE SYLLABUS

Texts:

 

Aug 19: course introduction
        24: course pak--Feminine Ideal (pp. 1-59); slides
        26: course pak--Tennyson poems (pp. 60-66); slides
        31 Gaskell, Wives and Daughters

Sept 2: Wives and Daughters; slides
        7: course pak--Political Realities; slides
        9: Mill, The Subjection of Women
        14: course pak--Education (up to The Princess)
        16: course pak--Tennyson, The Princess
        21: The Princess; slides
        23: course pak--Employment (through Barrett Browning poems)
        28: course pak--Employment; slides
        30: Brontë, Villette

Oct 5: Villette
       7: Nightingale, Cassandra
       12: no class--University Day
       14: no class--Fall Break
       19: Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh
       21: Aurora Leigh
       26: course pak--Female Sexuality (up to D. G. Rossetti poems)
       28: course pak--D. G. Rossetti poems; slides

Nov 2: slides; brief paper due
        4: course pak--Christina Rossetti poems; slides
        9: Tennyson, Idylls of the King: "The Marriage of Geraint" & "Geraint and Enid"
        11: Idylls: "Merlin and Vivien"
        16: Idylls: "Lancelot and Elaine"
        18: Idylls: "Guinevere"
        23: no class
        25: no class--Thanksgiving
        30: Eliot, The Mill on the Floss

Dec 2: The Mill on the Floss
        7: concluding remarks

Final exam: Saturday, 11 December, noon.

Requirements:

  1. brief paper (5-10 pages, presumably a germ of your final paper), due 2 November.
  2. final paper: an article-length essay, due the last day of class.
  3. a brief (5 minutes) oral presentation to the class, pertinent to one of the readings and due at the time the reading appears on the syllabus for discussion.

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BACKGROUND MATERIALS

 

SOME PERTINENT CENSUS DATA:

1851: 100 females to 96 men. Of those aged 20 and older, for every 100 women, 57 are married, 13 widowed, 30 never married. Thus, forty-three per cent of adult women in Britain have no spouse to support them.

1861:  Nearly six million adult women; of these, over 2 1/4 million--nearly 40%--are not married:

wives                            3,488,952
widows                            756,717
spinsters over 20          1,537,314
Total                             5,782,983

The 1861 census indicates that a genteel life cost 150-200 pounds per person.

LEGAL MILESTONES:

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  BACKGROUND NOTES FOR AUTHORS INCLUDED IN COURSE PAK

    Subject Areas:

Feminine Ideal         Political Realities         Education          Employment
Female Sexuality, the Fallen Woman, Prostitute

 

FEMININE IDEAL

SARAH STICKNEY ELLIS (1799-1882)

        In addition to poetry and realistic, didactic domestic fiction, Mrs. Ellis wrote books on education and etiquette, most famously a series of widely read conduct books, probably the most popular Victorian manuals for middle-class women: The Women of England (1838), The Daughters of England (1842), The Wives of England (1843), and The Mothers of England (1843). She intended her writings not only to earn money but to effect good. Married to missionary William Ellis, she nursed her sisters in fatal illnesses and mothered their children. Though she was less conservative in her private life than her advice manuals suggest, she refused to support the period's various movements for women's rights, preferring to involve herself in local educational projects for young women. Supervisor of Rawdon House, a school for young ladies, she wrote in 1869 that educated women lacked employment opportunities not because they were incapable, but because there was "actually no work for them to do" beyond the domestic arena; consequently they should concentrate on "heart work," service in their homes and in charity activities (Education of the Heart: Woman's Best Work).

 

GIF-Patmore.gif (15275 bytes)COVENTRY PATMORE (1823-1896)

        A Roman Catholic convert, poet, critic, essayist, associate of the Pre-Raphaelites, and, until he entered genteel retirement after his second marriage to a wealthy woman, a librarian at the British Museum, Patmore outlived three wives. His writings frequently focus on love, marriage, and religious mysticism. The Angel in the House is a long narrative and lyric poem, with four sections composed over a period of years: The Betrothed and The Espousals (1854), which eulogize his first wife; Faithful For Ever (1860); and The Victories of Love (1862)--the four published together in 1863. The work initially received mixed reception, ranging from ridicule for its slightness and banality and for the "dogtrot domesticities" of its octosyllabic quatrains (George Meredith's judgment), to praise for its touching sentiment and surface prettiness. Eventually it became a best seller. Though Patmore referred to the spirit of wedded love with the phrase "The Angel in the House," the term was soon applied to the Victorian feminine ideal.

 

SARAH LEWIS

        Little is known about Sarah Lewis's life. Her Woman's Mission (1839), based on De l'‚éducation des mères de famille, ou la civilisation du genre humain par les femmes (1834) by Louis Aim‚ Martin, a follower of Rousseau, was published anonymously, by "an English lady." Her work argued the moral superiority of women, situated them irrevocably in the domestic circle, and helped define the Victorians' concepts of woman's "sphere," "mission," and "influence." According to Lewis, though woman lacked political or economic power, her role was to exert a uniquely feminine power through maternal influence, teaching through self-renunciation and example. The work was immensely popular, within three years going through ten editions in England and 4 in America, with another 7 English editions by 1854.

 

JOHN RUSKIN (1819-1900)

        An influential critic of art and architecture, Ruskin early championed the innovative paintings of J.M.W. Turner and the Pre-Raphaelites. His essays blended aesthetic and moral issues so seamlessly that by the late 1850s he emerged as a major social critic who eloquently indicted Victorian materialism.

        Ruskin's personal relations with women were troubled. In 1854 his wife Euphemia (Effie) Gray won annulment of their six-year marriage on grounds that it was never consummated. (After the annulment, she married painter John Everett Millais, Ruskin's former protegé.) By 1860 Ruskin was becoming enraptured by Rose La Touche (he was 41, she 12), to whom he proposed when she reached 18. Their separation largely due to her parents' disapproval, her eventual refusal to marry him, and her prolonged illness and early death in 1875 sustained his misery for years.

        Though Ruskin generously supported Winnington Hall, a girls' school unusual in encouraging physical activities and serious tuition in the arts, he encouraged women's education for its general social value (women's "influence"); he did not endorse women's employment or political involvement outside the home. "Of Queen's Gardens" was initially written as a lecture to encourage support for schools in a Manchester slum. Its companion piece, a preceding lecture called "Of Kings' Treasuries," referred to the proper education of boys through books. Published in Sesame and Lilies in 1865, "Of Queen's Gardens" was immensely popular both in England, where it underwent eight editions by 1882, and in America, where it enjoyed 35 editions in the 19th century. The essay drew mixed critical reception, partly because it was seen as an attack on the social apathy of the Victorian middle class.

 

ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING (1806-1861)

        The major woman poet of the Victorian period, Elizabeth Barrett, unlike most Victorian girls, was educated in Greek and Latin, first studying with her brother's tutor, then teaching herself. In the 1820s she began publishing her work anonymously, but by 1838 won her father's approval to affix her name to her publications (her supportive mother had died when EBB was 22). She forfeited the love of this indulgent but domineering father by eloping to Italy in 1846 with Robert Browning, with whom she shared a fulfilling 15-year marriage and bore a son despite her extremely fragile health and frequent invalidism. Her 1844 collection of poems established her as a major poet, and by 1850 her stature prompted critics to name her as a possible successor to Wordsworth as Poet Laureate. Though she scorned the label "poetess" and self-consciously linked her work to the male poetic tradition tracing from Homer, Aeschylus, Milton, and Pope, reviews of her early work celebrated her spirituality and femininity. Her work became increasingly outspoken on women's issues and politics (especially abolition and Italian nationalism and independence); reviews became correspondingly critical of her unfeminine subject matter and unconventional experimentation with rhythm and rhyme. Remembered in the early decades of the 20th century primarily for sentimentalizations of her reclusive life before marriage and for her connection to Robert Browning, Barrett Browning has since the 1970s reclaimed her place at the center of Victorian studies.

 

VRI-124-sm.jpg (14763 bytes)QUEEN VICTORIA (1819-1901)

        Succeeding to the throne in 1837 because no male heirs survived her various uncles, Victoria was crowned at 18 and immediately asserted her independence from a domineering mother by insisting on her own bedroom. At 21 she chose her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, for her husband and remained devoted to him through 21 years of marriage and 40 years of ostentatious widowhood. (During her sustained mourning she almost entirely withdrew from public life from 1861 to 1876.) She bore 9 children, and though she loved them, expressed disgust with the physical aspects of childbirth and resentment that pregnancy constrained her enjoyment of her husband and her work. Victoria set an important precedent for women by using chloroform in her last two childbirths, despite the argument of some physicians that God had decreed that women should suffer in childbirth.

        An incongruous mixture of shrewdness and naivete, Victoria simultaneously exercised considerable political influence and represented herself as the exemplar of middle-class domesticity, a proper mother and deferential wife. She was passionately committed to her own public role and fitness to rule. She was the most widely recognized figure of the century, and by the 1890s her subjects numbered one-quarter of the world's population. Yet she viewed herself as an anomaly, believing in the separate spheres ideology which consigned women to domestic roles, and opposing both women's suffrage and women's admission to univerities.

 

HARRIET MARTINEAU (1802-1876)

        Author of about 50 books, especially distinguished for her works on political economy and for the social commentary in her travel writings, Martineau was a self-proclaimed radical who wrote on such topics as the enfranchisment of women, abolition, education, women's dress reform, and mesmerism. An agnostic, she espoused Comte's positivism, or secular rationalism.

        Throughout her life Martineau suffered severe sensory deprivation--she had no sense of smell or taste, and from age twelve progressively lost her hearing, which required her to use a distinctive ear trumpet. She also suffered from a stern, dominating mother. Raised in the Unitarian church, which supported education for girls, she enjoyed the sort of education normally reserved for Victorian boys, including Latin and economic and social theories. From age 23, exempted by her fiancé's death from obligation to marry, she became a confirmed spinster, and the deaths of her father and brother when she was in her 20s cleared the way for her to achieve independence as a professional writer, though in 1837 she declined the editorship of a new economic periodical because her younger brother disapproved. Having worked as a seamstress at the outset of her writing career, she became the major breadwinner for her family. Martineau began publishing under the pseudonym "V" but soon dropped this attempt to conceal her identity and sex. Her short-fiction series entitled Illustrations of Political Economy (25 monthly parts, published 1832-34) established her reputation. After writing her novel Deerbrook in 1838, she collapsed into bed for five years, attributing her eventual cure to mesmerism (her autopsy revealed a 12-inch uterine tumor). About 1855 she rapidly wrote her Autobiography when she thought she was dying; once recovered, she had a friend save the manuscript for posthumous publication. From 1852 to 1866 Martineau contributed regularly to the London Daily News on a wide array of topics. Her strength was journalistic writing--travelogues, manuals on such subjects as animal husbandry and the health hazards of crinolines and hoop skirts. She also editorialized for repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts (see "Josephine Butler," below).

 

ELIZA LYNN LINTON (1822-1898)

        Journalist and author of 22 novels, Eliza Lynn Linton represents the paradox of an antifeminist emancipated woman. A religious iconoclast, she was separated from her own husband yet upheld the sanctity of marriage; she wrote learned articles but opposed higher education for women; she claimed to be the first Englishwoman to receive a regular salary as a reporter, yet insisted that women belonged in the home [Helsinger, Sheets, Veeder, The Woman Question I.104]. Linton contributed to numerous periodicals, including Macmillan's Magazine and the Nineteenth Century, and wrote regularly for the Saturday Review, a publication violently hostile to women's rights and changing views of women. Her most notable contributions to this periodical were her withering satires of modern young women who deviated from the feminine ideal, attacks which she first articulated in an essay called "The Girl of the Period," which sold over 40,000 copies when republished in pamphlet form. Linton's critics noted that her domestic ideal for women was anachronistic in a world where half of women worked and 1/3 of them never became mothers, yet she cleverly and influentially expressed widespread fears of social change. Despite her opposition to women's voting rights and general emancipation (she called feminists "the shrieking sisterhood"), Linton supported separate education for women and Caroline Norton's crusade to protect women's custody rights and married women's property.

 

Tennyson.gif (85366 bytes)ALFRED TENNYSON (1809-1892)

        Appealing to both populist and elevated tastes, Tennyson succeeded Wordsworth as Poet Laureate in 1850, having published his immensely popular In Memoriam earlier that year. Having struggled financially through the 1840s, he from 1850 earned a fortune, and eventually a title, from his poetry. Though his representations of women sometimes draw charges that he fell into Madonna-Harlot stereotypes, his poetry is generally far more subtle and complex in his treatment of gender issues. The Princess, published in 1847 during lively public debate over higher education for women, annoyed opponents of the cause simply because it made women's admission to universities the subject of a major poem, while it annoyed supporters of the cause by treating the subject comically.

 

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POLITICAL REALITIES

WILLIAM THOMPSON

        Probably in collaboration with radical public lecturer Anna Wheeler, William Thompson in 1825 published his Appeal of One Half the Human Race, "the most important feminist work between Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)" and the comprehensive later arguments by George Drysdale and John Stuart Mill (Helsinger, Sheets, Veeder, The Woman Question I.21). A reformer who began by reforming social and economic conditions on his family's Irish estate, he conceived his Appeal to refute James Mill's assertion that women (like children) had no need of political rights, for their interests were subsumed by the interests of their fathers and husbands.

 

oliphant.jpg (17852 bytes)MARGARET OLIPHANT (1828-1897)

        Oliphant was the immensely prolific author of novels, travel writings, and biographies (over 100 books), as well as a journalist and the foremost woman critic of the period. She published her first novel in 1849. After marrying in 1852 she wrote always under immense financial pressure, essentially supporting her husband (until his early death after only seven years of marriage), her three children (all of whom predeceased her), as well as her parents, brothers, nieces and nephews. Despite the steady financial impetus for her writing, the quality of her work is often very high, especially in the Carlingford Chronicles series. She exerted considerable unremarked influence on publishing through her large number of reviews for Blackwood's Magazine and her reader's reports for Blackwood's publishing house. The fact that an ethic of care for her family (the ultimate unselfish domesticity) fueled her professional industry may help explain the incongruity of Oliphant's support of existing laws treating wives as femmes couverts who lacked legal rights independent of their husbands and of her opposition to "the mad notion of the franchise for women" [Autobiography (1899), 211]. Despite her political conservatism, Oliphant's essays affirmed women's capabilities and maintained that it was not political disabilities but men's contempt that constituted women's greatest problem.

 

BARBARA LEIGH SMITH BODICHON (1827-1891)

        A cousin of Florence Nightingale, Barbara Leigh Smith was one of five children born to a radical Member of Parliament and his common-law wife (a milliner). Her mother died when Barbara was seven; her father settled 300 pounds a year on each child, making his daughters as independent as his sons. In 1849 Barbara enrolled at the new Ladies' College in Bedford Square, where she studied law, political economy, and art. She continued her art studies in Corot's studio in France and exhibited her works frequently. She first participated in her family's longstanding involvement in political reform by publishing abolitionist articles. She founded and taught at innovative Portman Hall School, where children of different classes and religions were educated together. In 1857 she married Eugène Bodichon and subsequently lived part of each year in Algiers.

        Bodichon began her career as a writer and feminist reformer by publishing A Brief Summary, in Plain Language, of the Most Important Laws Concerning Women (1854). In 1857 she organized the committee (which has been called "the first formal structure" of feminism in England) supporting passage of the Married Women's Property Act, which failed in 1857 but finally passed in 1882. She founded the English Woman's Journal (1858) as a feminist forum. Its offices at Langham Place provided a center for the Society Promoting the Employment of Women (the "Langham Place Group"), the most important feminist circle in England between 1858 and 1865, and in 1865 she formed the first significant committee for women's suffrage. Bodichon remained at the center of middle-class women's efforts for social and political reform throughout the 1860s and 70s, from 1867 on devoting herself (with Emily Davies) to the founding of Girton College, Cambridge. When Bodichon died, she left 10,000 pounds--proceeds from the sale of her paintings--to Girton.

 

norton-portrait.gif (34679 bytes)CAROLINE NORTON (1808-1877)

        Beautiful member of an illustrious family (she was playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan's granddaughter), Caroline Sheridan Norton campaigned to reform laws relating to child custody, divorce, and women's property rights. Her zeal arose from her personal difficulties rather than from feminist ideology. Suffering a dismal marriage of incompatible temperaments, she left her brutal, unfaithful husband George in 1836 when he secretly removed their children from her home during a quarrel. Amid great scandal, her husband initiated divorce proceedings by claiming the Prime Minister Lord Melbourne was Caroline's lover and suing for damages for alienation of her affection. Though the courts found in her favor, she had no means of forcing Norton to pay her the support allocated by law; moreover, her legal vindication had made divorce impossible. Furthermore, her estranged husband refused her access to her own children (the youngest was 3 years old), and he legally claimed her earnings, even those produced by the pamphlets she published to protest the unfairness to women of existing property laws and of custody laws which viewed children as the inalienable property of their fathers. Largely as a result of her case, Parliament eventually passed the Infants' Custody Act in 1839, allowing women (against whom adultery had not been proved) to petition for custody of children under seven and for access to older children. (Though this legislation granted mothers the right to ask for custody, judges in actuality continued to favor fathers.) Her estranged husband circumvented the law by taking their sons out of England. In 1842, after their youngest son's death, George agreed to let her have their remaining two sons with her for half of each year, if she provided financial support. Six years later George's claims on her marriage settlement further exposed the financial disabilities of wives and prompted Caroline's work in behalf of the Married Women's Property Acts. Her lobbying efforts contributed significantly to the revision of divorce laws in 1857.

        In addition to her polemical writings, Caroline Norton published poetry, two novellas, and three novels which were popular in their time, though controversial because of their social criticism and occasional sexual frankness.

 

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EDUCATION

ELIZABETH MISSING SEWELL (1815-1906)

        Author of more than 40 devotional works and novels for girls which were heavily imbued with religious instruction, Elizabeth Sewell devoted herself after 1860 to reforming girls' educational practices. In 1865 she published a treatise on Principles of Education, which articulated an idealized plan for educating middle-class girls for a range of 'suitable' employments; the work included chapter headings such as Obedience, Truth, Purity, and Vanity. Sewell argued for separate spheres in education to accord with the different social and physical destinies of the sexes. In 1866 she opened St. Boniface Diocesan School for middle-class girls, which she directed until she died.

 

FRANCES POWER COBBE (1822-1904)

        Social reformer and radical advocate of women's rights, Cobbe led efforts to aid working women, and in the latter decades of the 19th century, the anti-vivisection movement. Daughter of wealthy, strict evangelical Protestants, educated at home except for two years at a frivolous finishing school in Brighton, Cobbe chaffed at confining paternal expectations and waged a prolonged battle with her father for religious autonomy. After her father's death in 1857, she at age 34 travelled in Greece, Italy, and Egypt, working as Italian correspondent for the London Daily News, and she went on to a career as a prolific and widely known journalist who published in a wide range of periodicals. Her inherited annual income of 200 pounds left her free to remain unmarried, though it was meager when measured against the family wealth she enjoyed as a girl and the affluence inherited by her brothers.

        Cobbe involved herself in many welfare causes, especially proposing improved care for the incurably ill and insane, working in Bristol's "ragged schools," and reforming workhouses. She immersed herself in feminist campaigns for women's admission to universities and to the professions, for women's suffrage, and for legal protection of married women. Cobbe's belief that women were essentially more moral than men fueled her efforts to assign women greater leadership responsibilities in public affairs. Her feminist endeavors stressed sexual difference and gender issues of private and domestic life such as women's domestic subordination, women's health issues, and the physical abuse of wives (her investigation of the latter issue influenced the 1878 Matrimonial Causes Act). From the 1870s she devoted much of her energy to the animal rights movement. She lived in domestic harmony for over three decades with sculptor Mary Lloyd.

 

PUNCH

        Founded in 1841 with playwright Mark Lemon as its first editor, Punch was an influential and extremely popular comic weekly (radical in its early days) which satirized current events in politics, society, the arts, and fashion. Combining "cartoons" (large-scale political drawings), small visual puns and joke illustrations (which we in America call "cartoons"), and short literary sketchs, the periodical enlisted such writers as William Makepeace Thackeray and such artists as John Leech, Richard Doyle, John Tenniel, and George Du Maurier.

 

HENRY MAUDSLEY (1835-1918)

        Professor of medical jurisprudence at University College London, superintendent of the Manchester Royal Lunatic Asylum, Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, and editor of the Journal of Mental Science, Maudsley was one of the period's leading (and most prosperous) specialists in mental disorders. In writings aimed at the general public, he embraced evolutionary theories of the mind, believing that mental illness is physical and hereditary in origin, and that men's and women's mental abilities differ as conspicuously as their bodies. His "Sex in Mind and in Education" published in the Fortnightly Review (n.s. 15 [1874]:466-83)--an essay heavily indebted to Sex in Education; or, a Fair Chance for the Girls (1873) by former Harvard professor of medicine Edward H. Clarke--introduced into general discussion in the English press the physiological effects of higher education on women, and maintained that no male models of education were appropriate to women. Unlike many physicians and polemicists of the period who sought to maintain the separate spheres by sentimentalizing and celebrating woman's unique maternal role as a noble counterpart to men's more public roles, Maudsley denigrated it by linking women's biological 'destiny' to his theories of their weakness of mind. Elsewhere he argued that masturbation causes insanity, and in Body and Mind (1870), which maintains that the developing human brain recapitulates the developmental stages of the brains of lower animals, he attributed mental impairment or idiocy to a brain's being arrested at an animal level.

 

ELIZABETH GARRETT ANDERSON (1836-1917)

        The second woman to become a fully accredited physician in England, Elizabeth Garrett had persisted in her desire for medical education despite her mother's opposition. She trained as a nurse but remained committed to becoming a physician. Refused admission to British medical schools, she studied on her own, dissecting cadavers in her bedroom. Eventually allowed to take the Apothecaries' Exam, she went on to study medicine at the Sorbonne, receiving her M.D. in 1870. Practicing medicine in England, she was regarded as an anomaly (for women in general lacked the money and perseverance to push themselves into the medical profession), and the national medical journal The Lancet declared her not a "lady." In 1866 she opened St. Mary's Dispensary for Women; in 1874 she helped establish the London Medical College for Women, of which she became dean in 1883. An active supporter of the suffrage movement and other women's causes (though she supported the Contagious Diseases Acts as a useful medical control), in 1908, the year following her husband's death, she was elected the first woman mayor in England and--at age 72--participated in a militant suffragists' raid on Parliament.

 

J. COMPTON BURNETT

 

(Margaret) EMILY SHORE (1819-1839)

        A middle-class girl with early scientific interests and aspirations, Emily Shore was admonished by her physicians that her study as a naturalist undermined her fragile health. In the 1830s she published essays on bird behavior in the Penny Magazine; her unpublished writings included nearly 2,000 pages of journals, as well as histories of the Jews and Greeks and Romans, epics, three novels, and three books of poetry. She died of tuberculosis at nineteen.

 

GEORGE J. ROMANES (1848-1894)

        Man of science and influential evolutionist, Romanes was a founder of the Physiological Society, honorary secretary of the Linnaean Society, member of the Royal Society, and friend and professional associate of Darwin. Concerned with investigating how animals know and feel, he wrote three books on animal intelligence. His focus was comparative or differential psychology and sexual psychology, and his preoccupation with establishing hierarchies of intelligence is famously expressed in his formulations about "the missing five ounces" of the female brain.

 

(Sarah) EMILY DAVIES (1830-1921)

        Experiencing a strict evangelical upbringing with little formal education, Emily Davies realized her disadvantage when her older brother enjoyed a distinguished career at Cambridge. When her father died in 1861, she at age 31 moved to London and involved herself with the projects of the Langham Place Group, especially campaigning for women's higher education. When attempts to induce the relatively new University of London to admit women failed, she campaigned for their admission to Oxford and Cambridge. In 1866 she published The Higher Education of Women, and in the same year established a fund-raising committee to support the cause of women's higher education. She was thus instrumental in paving the way for the founding in 1869 of Hitchin College, of which she became Head, and its transformation in 1873 into Girton College of Cambridge University. Having withdrawn from the suffrage campaign in order to protect the campaign for higher education from anti-suffrage backlash, she returned to suffrage leadership after the establishment of Girton, and in 1919 she was one of the few early suffrage workers still alive to cast her vote (at age 89). Davies' feminist endeavors emphasized gender equality and reforming public institutions.

 

GEORGE DRYSDALE

        A Scottish physician, Drysdale was the first doctor in England to write in defense of contraception--at a time when the nation's official medical journal The Lancet condemned contraception as a practice that rendered sex a transaction in which women were in effect prostitutes and men merely masturbators. Drysdale published his first book, Physical, Sexual and Natural Religion, anonymously in 1855. A Malthusian and active campaigner for fertility control, a vocal critic of the sexual double standard, and a vehement supporter of the mid-century women's movement, he insisted that birth control and recognition of women's sexual passion were essential to women's emancipation. By 1905 his Elements of Social Science had sold 88,000 copies in England and in continental translations.

 

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EMPLOYMENT

j-butler.jpg (4072 bytes)JOSEPHINE BUTLER (1828-1906)

        Josephine Butler zealously attacked the Victorian double standard by assisting so-called "Fallen Women" and leading the campaign against the Contagious Diseases Acts. Married in 1850 to George Butler, a lecturer in Classics, Josephine in 1860 asked Oxford dons to help her pressure some seducers into accepting responsibilities for their illegitimate children--to no avail. She then housed 'Fallen Women' in her home and assisted them in finding employment. When the number of supplicants outgrew her home, she established a shelter where they could receive training as seamstresses, and later helped them establish an envelope factory. She continued her work in Liverpool by opening a refuge for ill prostitutes and destitute women.

        In 1869 Butler was elected President of the Ladies' National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts. These pieces of legislation (1864, 1866, and 1869) aimed at improving the health of the nation's military by making women responsible for venereal disease: the laws required women, in towns with military contingents, who were thought to be prostitutes (even on the basis of unsubstantiated anonymous tips) to submit to medical inspection and treatment; if they resisted examination, they were incarcerated. Calling these forced gynecological exams rape by medical instrument and spotlighting the gender inequities in this manifestation of the double standard, Butler spearheaded a sustained campaign to inform the public, lobby, and demonstrate against the Contagious Diseases Acts, finally securing their repeal in 1886. Unusual for the period in emphasizing economic rather than moral remedies for prostitution, Butler insisted on women's franchise as the surest means to achieve social reform.

 

NELLY WEETON STOCK (1776-?1884)

        Author of  Miss Weeton, Journal of a Governess (published 1936-39), Nelly Weeton at age 12 assisted her widowed mother in running a school, and after her mother's death became a governess--partly to provide financial support to her brother. He repaid her by accepting a bribe from Aaron Stock (who had known Nelly for a week) to influence her to marry him. Stock turned out to be a brutal husband; during the marriage he beat and imprisoned her. When she finally left him, he retained custody of her daughter.

 

c-bronte.gif (5281 bytes)CHARLOTTE BRONTË (1816-1855)

        Educated at home by her curate father and briefly at the Clergy Daughters' School at Cowan Bridge (made infamous as Lowood School in Jane Eyre) and at Roe Head School, where she later served as a teacher, Charlotte Brontë worked for a short time as a governess, as did her sisters Emily and Anne. All three found the role uncongenial (Anne was most successful). Intent on finding a means by which the three of them could support themselves, Charlotte devised a plan--which never came to fruition--for the three of them to open a boarding school in their home. Toward this end, she (and briefly, Emily) studied French and taught English at the Pensionnat Heger in Brussels. Both Jane Eyre (1847) and Shirley (1849) represent the misery of socially isolated governesses, and Villette (1853) and The Professor (1857) depict the difficulties of the schoolteacher. All four novels vividly portray the economic vulnerability of unattached women.

 

ELIZABETH SEWELL (see under Education)

 

W. R. [William Rathbone] GREG (1809-1881)

        Presumably encouraged by the fact that in 1842 he won a prize from the Anti-Corn Law League for the best essay on "Agriculture and the Corn Laws," by 1850 Greg abandoned a faltering career in business to contribute to leading quarterlies on political and economic subjects. His appointment first as a commissioner on the Board of Customs and later as a comptroller in the Stationery Office established his financial security. His writings achieved distinction by illuminating complex problems. Generally philanthropic in his positions, he nonetheless remained skeptical of populist politics. Greg's essay "Prostitution," published in the Westminster Review in 1850 and reprinted as The Great Sin of Great Cities in 1853, called for state regulation of prostitution and represented prostitutes as society's victims rather than a social threat.

 

HENRY MAYHEW (1812-1887)

        Spurred by financial need, Mayhew wrote in many genres--educational books, travel narratives, popular farces, comic novels, and journalism. One of the founders of Punch in 1841, Mayhew is primarily remembered today for his series for the Morning Chronicle in 1849-50 entitled "Labour and the Poor," which gave rise to his expanded study published in 1861-62 as London Labour and the London Poor. Based on interviews with hundreds of street people, these accounts provide an empathetic and powerful picture of London working-class life. Though Mayhew's reports of the interviews (which are represented as autobiographical monologues in the voices of the subjects) may be somewhat inaccurate or fictionalized, they convey in vivid detail the living and working conditions of hundreds of working-class individuals. His accounts of the lives of seamstresses and prostitutes emphasize economic disabilities rather than "moral" weakness as the cause of their plights.

 

THOMAS HOOD (1799-1845)

        Initially an engraver, Hood increasingly pursued badly needed money through literature--poetry, essays, novels, comedy and satire. Besides contributing to periodicals, he edited a number of them, including The Athenaeum and the New Monthly Magazine; and  he founded several--the Comic Annual, Hood's Own Magazine, Hood's Magazine and Comic Miscellany. Though Hood's best work is comic verse, he sometimes moved his readership with humanitarian verse of striking pathos, most notably in "The Song of the Shirt" (published anonymously in Punch in 1843) and "The Bridge of Sighs" (1844).

 

DINAH MULOCK CRAIK (1826-1887)

        Poet, novelist, children's writer, and journalist, Dinah M. Craik secured her popularity with publication of John Halifax, Gentleman (1856), delineating the Victorian middle-class ideal through the rise of a man from working-class orphan to capitalist success and model family man. Much of Craik's writing focuses on women's experiences. She emphasized women's need for independence, an attitude perhaps fostered by her own life: Her father abandoned his children after their mother's death in 1845, leaving Dinah at age 19 to support herself through her writing. At 39 she married a man eleven years younger than she, and four years later they adopted a daughter. A Woman's Thoughts About Women (1858) encourages women of all classes to support one another (even the "Fallen") and cultivate self-reliance, and it differs from the standard delineation of the feminine ideal found in most conduct literature by offering practical advice to single women.

 

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FEMALE SEXUALITY, THE FALLEN WOMAN, PROSTITUTION

WILLIAM ACTON (1813-1875)

        Licensed as an apothecary and surgeon, Acton practiced in London beginning in the 1830s, earning a large fortune through his medical practice and his writings on sex and sexual diseases. Chief among them was A Complete Practical Treatise on Venereal Diseases (1841), which he kept before the public in six editions--a second edition retitled as A Practical Treatise on the Diseases of the Urinary and Generative Organs (1851) and a third, abridged edition retitled as Functions and Disorders of the Re-productive Organs (1857), and further editions in 1865, 1871, and 1875 (the work had 8 editions in American, the last in 1895). Acton also wrote Prostitution: Considered in Its Moral, Social and Sanitary Aspects (1857, 2nd edition 1870). Though his studies lacked reliable evidence and relied heavily on the work of other medical writers, they were widely quoted throughout the period and established a substantial reputation for him. Acton insistently argued that (good) women were naturally sexually anesthetized.

 

GEORGE DRYSDALE (see under Education)

 

ELIZABETH BLACKWELL (1821-1901)

        Blackwell was the first woman to become a fully accredited physician in the United States and in England. Born in England, she emigrated to America with her family at age 11. After a struggle, she gained admission to medical school at Geneva College, New York. Receiving her M.D. in 1849, she studied abroad for two years, then practiced medicine in America for 18 years. In 1869 she settled in England, where she had succeeded a decade earlier in registering as a physician. At that time she had also undertaken a lecture tour to encourage younger English women to study medicine. (Women were not certified as physicians in England until 1875.) She helped establish the London School of Medicine for Women, where she became professor of gynecology in the late 1870s. Blackwell, who published widely on women's health, was one of the few women physicians to protest against the Contagious Diseases Acts.

 

JOHN MORLEY (1838-1923)

        Man of letters and statesman, John Morley wrote as a free-lance journalist, biographer, and editor, and in the 1880s was elected to Parliament. From 1892 he served as Chief Secretary for Ireland and later became a member of the Cabinet, resigning at the onset of World War I because of his pacifism. His biographies include works on Cromwell, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Gladstone, and he edited the extensive Men of Letters series. In the early 1860s Morley contributed regularly to the Saturday Review, though as a liberal he did not support the publication's Tory views. Friend of J.S. Mill and George Eliot, from 1867 he edited the liberal Fortnightly Review for fifteen years, and as editor of the Pall Mall Gazette from 1880 he transformed its politics from conservative to radical. An opponent of established dogma and champion of humanitarian rationalism, Morley supported a national system of secular education, disestablishment of the Anglican church, and land and tax reforms that favored the poor.

 

rosetti.jpg (3858 bytes)DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI (1828-1882)

        In 1848 Rossetti, with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais, founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group (composed of six artists and DGR's brother, art critic William Michael) which rebelled against prevailing academic conventions in art by emphasizing fidelity to nature, bright colors, and typological details. Gifted as both painter and poet, Rossetti in his works combined unconventional eroticism with spirituality and private mythology. He eventually married Elizabeth Siddal (who also painted and wrote poetry), whom he had obsessively painted and sometimes lived with for over a decade. When she was buried after a laudanum overdose in 1862, he interred his poetry manuscripts with her--a dramatic gesture of guilt and grief which he later repented. He had the papers exhumed in 1869, and in the following year published his first collection of his own poetry (he had previously published translations of Dante and medieval courtly love lyrics). In the 1860s Rossetti developed a distinctive type of female portrait: monumental women with large necks and hands and abundant hair, wearing historical costumes and often leaning against balustrades or windows, surrounded by iconographic flowers and objects. Avidly sought by a small group of wealthy patrons, these femmes fatales excited critical comment for their sensuousness, as did Rossetti's poetry, famously attacked by critic Robert Buchanan in "The Fleshly School of Poetry." Rossetti's principal love and model from the late 1860s was Jane Morris, wife of poet and craftsman William Morris. However, Rosetti so thoroughly adapted features of individual sitters to his vision of female beauty that it is often difficult to distinguish among his models.

 

c-rossetti.gif (16095 bytes)CHRISTINA ROSSETTI (1830-1894)

        A poet remembered for her devotional writings and children's verse, Christina Rossetti won fame with her Goblin Market volume in 1862. Educated at home in a family of intellectual men ardently devoted to art and politics, she began writing in her childhood. She worked briefly as a governess, but found the role uncongenial and preferred helping her mother teach students in their home. A devout Anglican (her older sister became an Anglican nun), she is thought to have rejected one suitor (Pre-Raphaelite painter James Collinson) because he returned to Catholicism and another because he was too agnostic. From 1860 to 1870 Rossetti worked at Highgate Penitentiary (not a prison, but a place for repentance) for the reclamation of "Fallen Women." Always in fragile health, as a teenager in the 1840s she suffered a physical and psychological breakdown (one biographer attributes this to sexual abuse). In 1871 she fell seriously ill with Graves' disease, a rare form of disfiguring goiter ailment which caused darkened skin, protruding eyes, vomiting, faintness and heart attacks, and for the rest of her life she suffered pain which required narcotics. Her poetry represents an intense blend of passion and asceticism.

 

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