“The Right to Be Happy”: Feminism and Child-Rearing During the Interwar Years

  • Ann Taylor Allen

Abstract

In 1911, Ellen Key called the mother-child bond the purest of all human relationships and motherhood “the most perfect human condition, where happiness consists in giving and giving is the greatest happiness.”1 But interwar authors emphasized the darker side of mother-love, often picturing mothers as the enforcers of the repressive norms that arrested their daughters’ development. “Probably no ambitious girl who has lived in a family which regards the subservience of women as part of the natural order of creation ever completely recovers from the bitterness of her early emotions,” wrote the novelist Vera Brittain in 1933. Virginia Woolf was haunted by the ghost of her own perfect mother, whom she called (from the title of a cloying Victorian poem) the “Angel in the House.” “She was intensely sympathetic. She was utterly unselfish … in short, she was so constituted that she never had a mind or wish of her own, but preferred to sympathize always with the minds and wishes of others.” Woolf imagined herself killing this dark spirit: “I turned upon her and took her by the throat … Had I not killed her, she would have killed me. She would have plucked the heart out of my writing.”2

Keywords

Europe Amid Income Assimilation Beach 

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Notes

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© Ann Taylor Allen 2005

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  • Ann Taylor Allen

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