From the New to the Neo-Woman: (Re)Envisioning a Fin-de-Siècle Icon


British / Women's and Gender Studies

Joellen Masters (Boston University)

Scholarship credits Sarah Grand with devising the term “New Woman” in 1894, although occasional differing claims nod to others, Lady Mary Jeune, for instance, in 1889. The label, which characterized and categorized the independent, self-supporting woman, quickly became popular in late Victorian culture and has resurfaced in our fascination with the Neo-Victorian. In the 1890s the New Woman appeared as the nonconformist heroine in novels, in articles about women’s education, tracts about employment equality. Magazines satirized the bicycle-riding emancipated female; conduct books warned about an un-feminine type. In their variety and scope, representations of the New Woman were, as New Woman scholars like Lyn Pyckett have established, ambivalent. Continued contributions to New Woman studies broaden the scope, regularly adding new names of women newly foregrounded or even discovered. This panel investigates the fluid and the vacillating, the ever-evolving realm of New Woman scholarship with questions not exclusive to the following: Who are the other neglected fin-de-siècle women writers, artists, and journalists we can add to the New Woman canon? How do these additions expand or change our definitions of a female figure who rebelled against the period’s gender norms and social mores? How does opening geographic boundaries associated with the ur-New Woman enrich our understanding of British fin-de-siècle proto-feminism and globalize that reformist and creative energy? How does Neo-Victorian fiction and film complicate, corrupt, simplify or in some other way alter our understanding of the New Woman? The panel aims to investigate these and other questions on the New Woman and New Woman studies.

This panel investigates the ever-evolving realm of New Woman scholarship with papers on fin-de-siècle women writers, artists, and journalists and on representations of the New Woman in Neo-Victorian fiction and film.