The last two decades of the Victoria Era endorsed the beginning of a change in social attitudes that were regarding the gender relations that marked the steady move different from the male supremacy and female dependency on the new pattern of gender equality. One of the results of this movement is the development of the New Woman Fiction.
The Stereotype Women
In the mid and late Victorian Era in England, there was a growing social problem of the single women who were of marriageable age. This incident was noticed by an author William Rathbone Greg who argued with genuine concern according to the statistics. The data said that there were many women in England and Wales who were in the prime time of life which is between the thirty and forty years, and unmarried.
He predicted very miserable life of struggle, privation, and celibacy for this women and as a suggestion, he proposed them to ship these women to the British colonies, where many single men were waiting for their wives.
However, a serious barrier was holding this plan to be implemented. The men’s British colonies needed the marriageable women from the lower middle class and the working class, but the women who did not find their husbands were from the upper and the middle class.
Greg was very disappointed to know that the young upper-class women sacrificed their married life for the unsatisfying pleasure of luxury and glory.
The New Woman
At the beginning of the 1880s, the New woman appeared in the literature of the feminist author like Sarah Grand, George Egerton, and Olive Schreiner. 19th century Britain started to change. An economic boom developed the rising middle class, a consumerist culture, a higher standard of living and larger distribution of wealth which changed the family structure of the Victorian family.
Women now began to turn away from the so-called ideal Victorian women who were the silent dutiful wife and a mother. Now, these New Women were a fictional character who varied from each other depending on the feminist view of a particular author.
The New women were intelligent, emancipated, educated, self-supporting and independent. They were also factory and office workers rather than only being middle-class female radicals. By the end of 19th century, the ideology of New woman started to play an important role in the social changes which led to redefining the roles of gender that consolidated the rights of women by overcoming the supremacy of male gender.
However, this discourse on the gender relation had an effect which increased the feminization of labor force, education of women, divorce legislature, single motherhood, sanitation, female consumer culture as well as epidemiology. The New woman very soon found their advocates among the decadents and aesthetes.
These New Women included social reformers, suffragists, popular novelists, professional women, and female students. They were now subject of interest in the press and popular fiction. The New women were mockingly represented as women riding her bicycle in bloomers and also with smoking cigarettes.
The New Woman in Victorian Fiction
The concept of New Woman found very interesting representation in the late Victorian Fiction. In the Victorian Fiction, the new woman was not bounded by a single genre but they instead were multiple roles with a single woman as the central character.
The New Woman often expressed their gratitude with the modern position of women in marriage and in society. They represented female heroines who clashed against the classic male perception of woman as the angel in their house. They also challenged the old codes of morality and conduct.
They dealt casually with sex and marriage as well as the desire of women for fulfillment and independence. They strongly defended the ideas which represented that home is the only sphere for the woman.
The three areas where women felt oppressed were marriage, labor market and suffrage which were highlighted by New Woman writers. The New woman novels were categorized into two types which were the purity school novels and Sue Bridehead type novels.
Both these type of novels exposed the women being the victim in the marriage and society but the only difference between them was the attitude of the monogamous relationship.
The New Woman Novelists
Mostly the new woman novelist were women, however, some male author also took part in this genre. They all imposed the social norms on the woman and redefined the role of women in marriage and society. They also opposed the traditional benevolent views of society that only marriage and motherhood are suitable occupations for women.
They tried to reconsider the relations between the sexes and appealed for the truthfulness in the sexual matters. The novelist also promoted the professional aspiration of women
Examples of the Female Novelist
Few of the examples of the female New Woman novelists who are almost forgotten and were hardly criticized and praised by all readers were Olive Schreiner, Sarah Grand, and George Egerton.
Olive Schreiner (1855-1920)
She is regarded as one of the most pioneers of the New Woman fiction who inspired other New Woman writers with her feminist “Bildungdroman, Story of an African Farm in 1833”. She highly criticized the traditional roles of gender and promoted positive persons who can shape her life. Her novel dealt with sexual initiation, free-thinking, premarital sex, gender identity, marriage rejection, women’s inequality, transvestitism.
She was an active feminist as well as a member of the Woman Writer’s Suffrage League. Her novels named “Ideala in 1888”, “The Heavenly Twins in 1893”, and “The Beth Book in 1897” depicts the stories of women who have fallen into a bad marriage. She mainly supported the marriage institution but condemned women’s sexual ignorance and hypocrisy of men.
She revealed the failure of marriage mismatch and also criticize the traditional idea of male dominance and female submission in her article named “Marriage” that was published in the Westminster Review of 1888. Her novel “The Wing of Azrael in 1889” was about the cruelty of husband and after marriage rape on the woman.
She is called the Elaine Showalter meant the paradigmatic figure among the writers of New Woman. She published a collection of short stories “keynotes” which asserted the views of female sexuality in Victorian people. The second collection of her short stories “Discords” depicts the theme of motherhood, sexual freedom, and women’s autonomy.
Many male authors were also included in the theme of New Woman who are George Meredith, Grant Allen, George Gissing, and Thomas Hardy.