New Women for Old: Politics and Fictional Forms in New Woman Writing

  • Ruth Robbins
Part of the Transitions book series (TRANSs)


Who or what the New Woman of the 1880s and 1890s was very much depended on who was defining her. The term itself is often said to have originated in an article, ‘A New Aspect of the Woman Question’ in the North American Review for 1894, coined by the New Woman novelist Sarah Grand, who chose — of course — to define the term positively to ‘refer to a type of well-educated, middle-class woman who was openly critical of the traditional roles established for women, especially marriage and motherhood, and who was influenced by the feminist movement to speak out in favour of equal education for women and equal purity for men and women’ (Senf 1992, xiii).1 The positive definition of the New Woman, then, insists on her intelligence and her intellectual capacities being equal to those of her male middle-class contemporaries. The New Woman is not, in this reading at least, a working-class woman. In Grand’s particular version of the phenomenon, she is also defined as being superior to her fellow men at least in terms of her moral and sexual purity. Save for the latter — though it is a very important exception — Olive Schreiner’s Lyndall is a New Woman before the phrase existed, as we shall see.


Sexual Double Standard Woman Writer African Farm Woman Question Feminist Campaigner 
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© Ruth Robbins 2003

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  • Ruth Robbins

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