‘Heaven defend me from political or highly-educated women!’: Packaging the New Woman for Mass Consumption
The New Woman of commercialized popular literature was a far cry from her sensitive, suffering sisters in the polemic fiction of the best-known New Woman novelists. Romances, comic novels and detective fiction portrayed attractive, independent, highly intelligent young women entering a range of professions before (almost invariably) falling in love. Some of the most striking examples of this type of fiction were written by men — perhaps attempting to defuse the threat of the New Woman by emphasizing her youth, sexual attractiveness, and the supposed folly of her desire for independence. Male fears of the New Woman’s bid for sexual and social equality are expressed by the hero of Beatrice Harraden’s fin-de-siècle bestseller Ships that Pass in the Night, who cries, ‘Heaven defend me from political or highly educated women!’1 In commercial New Woman fiction, a heroine who is ‘political or highly educated’ is almost sure to come to a bad end unless she abandons her socio-political and intellectual activities in favour of a conventional wifely role.
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