The Woman Professional and De Facto Non-Biological Motherhood in ‘The Story of a Modern Woman’

Ella Hepworth Dixon’s novel, The Story of a Modern Woman (1894), unlike many of its mid-century predecessors and fin-de-siècle contemporaries, does not burden its heroine, an aspiring professional woman, with marriage and biological motherhood.[1] Mary Erle, the main protagonist of Dixon’s novel, “did not care for babies” and “would rather have had a nice, new, fluffy kitten.”[2] Having thus described Mary’s lack of interest in children in no uncertain terms, Dixon’s narrative is also careful to point out her natural,

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Sexualizing Narratives: Layered Scopophilia in Tess of the d’Urbervilles and the Female Reader

Header image: 1891 illustration from Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, by Joseph Syddall. “Why so often the coarse appropriates the finer thus,” comments the narrator of Tess of the d’Urbervilles following Tess Durbeyfield’s fateful encounter with Alec d’Urbervilles at the Chase.[1] The exploration of sexuality within Victorian culture and literature, especially female sexuality, is extensive; Michel Foucault’s first volume of The History of Sexuality (1976), Nancy Armstrong’s Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel (1987), Christopher

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“Preferring Death to the Embrace of a Strange Dancing Woman”: Jewish Dancers in Victorian Ballrooms

Dancing was perhaps the most universal and popular mixed-sex leisure pursuit in the nineteenth century. Yet dance was not purely a recreational activity. Ballroom etiquette demanded adherence to the rules of fashionable society, including precise rules for comportment, conversation, and choosing a dance partner. For upwardly mobile Jewish dancers, balls presented additional challenges. First of all, mixed-sex dancing was forbidden according to traditional Jewish law, which regarded men and women dancing together as a gateway to sexual impropriety. And while

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The Virtuosa is the Villain: How Hulu’s ‘Only Murders in the Building’ Rehearses Victorian Ideas About Female Musicians

Alert: this piece contains spoilers for Hulu’s 2021 show Only Murders in the Building. Scroll down to read!                         I should have known it was the bassoonist.  As a scholar of classical music and gender and a clarinetist myself, I can’t believe it took me until the second-to-last episode of Hulu’s 2021 murder mystery/comedy series Only Murders in the Building (OMITB) to realize that the serial killer at the core

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Who’s Wearing the Pant(aloon)s Now?: Women Illustrators and Rational Dress

In “‘Rational’ Dress”, a cartoon published in the 6 June 1883 edition of Judy, or the London Serio-comic Journal, Marie Duval (1847-90) parodies the rational dress movement, which strived for improvements in women’s clothing, through a series of individual figures (fig. 1). The figures, or ‘characters’, represent various ways in which rational dress has influenced fashion trends and women’s place in society. Printed underneath are captions pertaining to each character on the page or ‘stage.’ Everyone has a unique ‘role’

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The Endowment of Motherhood Wars of the 1900s

Who doesn’t love Mother? Consider two scenarios that faced late Victorian and Edwardian social reformers and opinion makers: working-class mother tending the family’s oh-so-many children while father drinks up his wages at the local public house (I’m thinking of the premise of Reginald Cripps’s Public House Reform); and, moving up a notch, mother pointlessly tending the family’s suburban villa (“The Laurels” of George and Weedon Grossmiths’ Pooter sagas) and anxiously watching one or two children (all the family can afford),

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Books, Reading, and Daydream Believing: Christy Carew Has ‘Nothing’ to Do

The current pandemic triggered what appears to be a reading revival. As I noted media discourse on people accumulating books, I wondered whether sometimes these books were companions to a daydream, as individuals imagined an alternative present or felicitous future; experiencing, as Charlotte Bronte expressed it in Villette, “the life of thought, and that of reality”.[1] Researching fictional experiences of reading in women’s writing at the fin de siècle, I notice a book is often accompaniment to a daydream. It

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Language of Feminism in Arabic and British Fin-de-Siècle Writing

Writing a comparative PhD thesis on the New Woman in Britain and the Arab world at the fin de siècle entailed establishing similarities and differences in language usage in the early feminist movements in both cultural contexts. Considering that the New Woman is a well-established field of study in Western scholarship, the main focus of my research project was to demonstrate that, contrary to the assumptions made in existing literature – that the New Woman appeared in Arabic from the

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Venerating Verses and Disrespectful Ditties: Informal Music Inspired by Queen Victoria

Over the course of her record breaking six-decade reign, Queen Victoria was the subject of numerous formal and informal musical compositions alike. While most formal music was reverential in nature and sought to praise the monarch, by and large the informal music that Victoria inspired among the lower classes tended to contain derogatory or mocking depictions of the queen. However, there were a small number of compositions that celebrated Victoria’s personal and political successes. Still, most of these were informal

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