New Woman

From ArticleWorld

The New Woman was a fin de siecle reaction to the oppressive mores and expectations of Victorian era England. Instead of swoons, overprotectedness, being housebound, and restrictive clothing, the life of the New Woman included bicycles and travel, employment and therefore financial independence, updated, modern clothing, and above all opinions that were expressed. While the Victorian era was in general noted for its emotional and sexual repression, and the toughening of British rule in the colonies, for women the time was bookended by discussions about suffrage, which started in the 1940s, and the passge of the Married Women's Property Act in 1870, which guaranteed a degree of financial independence.

While anxiety about independent women started to surface in print in the 1860s, usually in terms of concern for neglected families and husbands, the term New Woman was coined in 1894 by Sarah Grand, who wrote such novels as The Heavenly Twins and Ideala. Parallel to real-world developments the concept gained literary currency when explored by George Gissing in The Odd Women (1893) and Thomas Hardy in Jude the Obscure (1896) . Later novels that engaged explicitly or subtly with the idea include H.G.Wells's Ann Veronica (1909) and E.M. Forster's Howard's End (1908).