Women outside marriage between 1850 and the Second World War were seen as abnormal, threatening, superfluous and incomplete, whilst also being hailed as ‘women of the future’. Before 1850 odd women were marginalised, minor characters, yet by the 1930s spinsters, lesbians and widows had become heroines. This book considers how Victorian and modernist women's writing challenged the heterosexual plot and reconfigured conceptualisations of public and private space in order to valorise female oddity. It offers queer readings of novels and stories by women writers, from Charlotte Bronte, Elisabeth Gaskell, Ella Hepworth Dixon and Netta Syrett to May Sinclair, Radclyffe Hall, Clemence Dane, Winifred Holtby and Virginia Woolf. This interdisciplinary study tracks diverse representations of the odd woman in fiction and autobiographical accounts in relation to the rise of feminism. It illuminates singleness in the context of the suffrage campaign, women's work, sexual inversion and birth control as well as assessing the impact of the First World War. It draws on advice literature, medical texts, feminist polemic and articles from the new women's magazines. Developing debates within queer theory about gender non-conformity, heteronormativity and relationships between women, this genealogy of the odd woman shows how new conceptualisations of female singleness and lesbianism troubled, and ultimately transformed, social norms.
sense, but upon her decency, her normality, even her sanity.1
Even as unmarried women were officially pathologised in the press
and in medico-scientific texts between the 1850s and the 1930s,
shifting perceptions of ‘normality’ were slowly eroding the stigma
of singleness. Women’s fears of compromising their reputations and
their ‘decency’ had certainly diminished, but the risks of sex outside
marriage, even with the wider availability of contraception, did not
evaporate. There were still warnings about ‘the physical, mental and
moral disasters that follow in the
of same-sex alliances suggests that ‘heterosexual gender itself no
longer seemed an adequate concept for understanding the Victorian
past’.15 Going beyond the heterosexual matrix is necessary in order
to complicate over-simplified versions of an odd/normal dichotomy.
Historical studies of spinsterhood have tended to locate singleness
in social change after the First World War,16 or to offer only partial
visions of the development of the family and female alliances from
the mid-nineteenth century onwards. Martha Vicinus’s valuable study
Reconfiguring spinsterhood and the Victorian family in inter- war women’s writing
plight of unmarried women, their aimless existence, their economic and
emotional dependency’ (2003: 32). The subtext of protest about the precarious economic conditions of the Victorian spinster in Brontë’s writing
became an important aspect of her legacy to women writers of the early
twentieth century, who were equally concerned with reinventing singleness for new kinds of heroines (Lamonica, 2003: 30). The ‘coarseness’ of
the Brontës’ work which offended mid-Victorian reviewers, and the ‘violations of propriety’ Gaskell famously protested against in a
and offices who reaped
the benefits of increased sexual freedom in a new heterosocial culture.
To recast the spinster, or old maid, as a fun-loving ‘bachelor girl’ was
to bestow on her a new identity which showed that female singleness
was becoming more acceptable. Evolutionary fears about racial decline,
however, revived concerns about the old maid’s childlessness and
limited social function. As Grant Allen claimed as early as 1889, the
‘self-supporting spinster’ was ‘an abnormality, not the woman of the
future’; he annexed this view to an attack on contemporary
the Other, how it permits a discourse
of power to limit debate and adjust contradictions. My analysis
establishes first the ‘singleness’ of imperialism, a voice
speaking to and constructing the ‘purity’ of the upper- and
middle-class English male.
The game of war
The metaphor of war as sport –
and its corollary, sport as war – was a commonplace in late
singleness in the population, late age of marriage and high fertility within marriage – distinctive patterns
largely ascribed to impartible farm inheritance, a ‘stem family system’ in which one
child would inherit, marry and produce the next generation. Given the strict
control of sexuality and sexual relations among the unmarried, the strictures of a
life of enforced celibacy was as significant as economic factors in motivating
emigration. For ‘bachelors’ and ‘spinsters’ who remained at home, opportunities
for sexual relationships were limited, despite, or perhaps because
Women Art Workers constitutes the first comprehensive history of the network of women who worked at the heart of the English Arts and Crafts movement from the 1870s to the 1930s. Challenging the long-standing assumption that the Arts and Crafts simply revolved around celebrated male designers like William Morris, this book instead offers a new social and cultural account of the movement, which simultaneously reveals the breadth of the imprint of women art workers upon the making of modern society. Thomas provides unprecedented insight into how women – working in fields such as woodwork, textiles, sculpture, painting, and metalwork – navigated new authoritative roles as ‘art workers’ by asserting expertise across a range of interconnected cultures so often considered in isolation: from the artistic to the professional, intellectual, entrepreneurial, and domestic. Through examination of newly discovered institutional archives and private papers, and a wide range of unstudied advertisements, letters, manuals, photographs, and calling cards, Women Art Workers elucidates the critical importance of the spaces around which women conceptualised alternative creative and professional lifestyles: guild halls, exhibitions, homes, studios, workshops, and the cityscape. Shattering the traditional periodisation of the movement as ‘Victorian’, this research reveals that the early twentieth century was a critical juncture at which women art workers became ever more confident in promoting their own vision of the Arts and Crafts. Shaped by their precarious gendered positions, they opened up the movement to a wider range of social backgrounds and interests, and redirected the movement’s radical potential into contemporary women-centred causes.
This book explores for the first time women’s leading roles in animal protection in nineteenth-century Britain. Victorian women founded pioneering bodies such as the Battersea Dogs’ Home, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and the first anti-vivisection society. They intervened directly to stop abuses, promoted animal welfare, and schooled the young in humane values via the Band of Mercy movement. They also published literature that, through strongly argued polemic or through imaginative storytelling, notably in Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, showed man’s unjustifiable cruelty to animals. In all these enterprises, they encountered opponents who sought to discredit and thwart their efforts by invoking age-old notions of female ‘sentimentality’ or ‘hysteria’, which supposedly needed to be checked by ‘masculine’ pragmatism, rationality and broadmindedness, especially where men’s field sports were concerned. To counter any public perception of extremism, conservative bodies such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for long excluded women from executive roles, despite their crucial importance as donors and grassroots activists. However, women’s growing opportunities for public work in philanthropic projects and the development of militant feminism, running in parallel with campaigns for the vote, gave them greater boldness in expressing their distinctive view of animal–human relations, in defiance of patriarchy. In analysing all these historic factors, the book unites feminist perspectives, especially constructions of gender, with the fast-developing field of animal–human history.
its own textual condition.
‘A man’s life is no more than to say
“one”’ (5.2.81), says Hamlet (at least in the
Folio text), probably referring to the first touch in a fencing bout
as a metaphor for the brevity of life, but inevitably marking his
wish for a singleness, an integrity of purpose and being,
unavailable to him in the world of doubles, doubledealers, and