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M A R C E T, L A HY MKS. IKiMIMIKV WARD Auiiioit uv *'UoiwutT 101.MMKIiI;," "Tuii ΙΙιβτοκν οκ l>.vvw> ΙΕ ιιικνκ/' Κτο IN TWO VOLUMKS VUL. IL MAOMILLAN ANJ) CO. Λ ND 1-ONl)ON 180-1 All rights reserved Defiance in Disguise: Mary Ward's Ambivalent Concept of Woman as Reflected in Marcella M. Dolores Herrero University of Zaragoza, Spain IN MOST OF THE CRITICAL WORKS that first tackled the study of late-Victorian women writers, Mary Ward is referred to only in passing. She is treated, if at all, only superficially, and is often relegated to the background in favour of other women novelists such as Olive Schreiner, Sarah Grand, Mona Caird, George Egerton and Mary Cholmondeley , who advanced a more radical concept of woman.1 Most feminist critics, therefore, considered Mary Ward's novels too reactionary and "awkwardly outdated" to deserve a thorough analysis.2 Likewise , recent studies assert that Mary Ward, "in order ... to enter (or attempt to enter) realms of *high culture'... renounce[d] female models, influences, and values," thus betraying the cause of women.3 Nevertheless , other views have been voiced: Not only does Mrs. Humphry Ward's popularity belie the "outdatedness" of the novels; on closer examination it also turns out that the novels are in fact complex and ambiguous in their attitude to the role and nature of women—as complex and ambiguous ... as the late-Victorian mind of the author herself. Torn between the womanly ideal of submission on which she had been brought up and her attraction to the new womanly ideal that emerged during the last decades of the century in reaction to the inequities women faced in social custom, in the law, and in work, Mrs. Humphry Ward epitomizes what it meant to be a woman in the late-Victorian transition period.* Mary Ward could accordingly be said to stand for the female Victorian psyche at war with itself, which is tantamount to genuine Victorian ambivalence as experienced by women. Like many of her heroines, Mary Ward was torn between the Victorian ideal of self-renunciation and the 445 ELT 38:4 1995 wish to reassert herself as a coherent and integral human being. She was aware of the limitations which being a woman involved; that is, was aware of gender. Robert J. Stoller defines gender "as a term that has psychological or cultural rather than biological connotations. If the proper terms for sex are 'male' and 'female', the corresponding terms for gender are 'masculine' and 'feminine'."5 Such a rigid difference between "male" and "female" allocates to each group specific and diverse qualities . What was it, then, to be a woman? Hester Eisenstein offers an explanation of the "ideal": To conform to the stereotype of "womanly" or "feminine" meant to display those characteristics that distinguished women from men. It meant, therefore , behavior that was passive or weak, compliant, and indecisive. It meant being easily moved to tears ("hysterical"), susceptible to suggestion from others, easily led or persuaded. It meant being non-aggressive and noncompetitive , and dependent, in need of direction, as well as companionship and affection. In short, women were meant to be inadequate, self-doubting, and essentially incapable of a strong, independent, and autonomous existences If this was the ideal which society tried to impose upon women, Mary Ward's heroines, like their creator, cannot be accused of complying with it in an unquestioning manner. Ward's novels can be viewed as trying to find a midway position between both ideals of womanhood, namely, the traditional ideal of self-renunciation and the vindicative ideal of self-assertion, as if their author were attempting to solve her own personal conflict by projecting her doubts and fears onto her literary characters. Although Ward's heroines cannot be considered to be exponents of radical feminist ideas, nonetheless they rebel against the feminine ideal accepted and sanctioned by the status quo: Mrs Ward's heroines obviously have little to tell us about the really revolutionary thorough-going feminists of their times, or of ours, but they suggest a great deal about those more numerous women who, touched by the example of their champions, followed them at a distance and, deliberately or without thinking...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 445-465
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
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