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SUBVERTING THE IDEAL: THE NEW WOMAN AND THE BATTLE OF THE SEXES IN THE SHORT FICTION OF ELLA D'ARCYi SARAH E. MAIER University ofAlberta In 1895, Mrs. Devereux, a writer for the Saturday Review, claimed that "Life has taken on a strange unloveliness, and the least beautiful thing therein is the New Woman" (824). Much of the fiction of the 1890s reflected and contributed to the debate prompted by the emergence of the "New Woman," a debate which arose out of the social concern of men and women writers for the female experience in a patriarchal society. The resulting New woman school of writing tried to do two things: first, to argue the moral and social case for a higher degree of emancipation for women; and second, to show how firmly entrenched in tradition were the conventions which oppressed women at the turn of the century. Constance Eleanor Mary Byrne D'Arcy is one such writer. D'Arcy, as one of the most influential writers in John Lane's Keynotes series and a frequent contributor to the Yellow Book, was often compared to authors such as "George Egerton," Henry James and Guy de Maupassant who were at the forefront of the experimental short fiction of the late nineteenth century. The daughter of Irish parents, D'Arcy was born in either 1856 or 1857 in London, and was educated as an artist at the Slade School in London, as well as studying in France, Germany, and the Channel Islands. D'Arcy's poor eyesight forced her to abandon a career as a painter and to turn to writing. A lack of autobiographical accounts about her life and literary career may have been intentional as she was reticent about her personal circumstances. Gossip had it that she had several well-known liaisons with men such as Henry Harland, John Lane, and M.P. Shiel, but it is apparent that she had little real interest in a conventional relationship. D'Arcy was the assistant editor of the notorious Yellow Book in which she found her first literary success with the publication of Victorian Review 20.1 (Summer 1994) 36Victorian Review "Irremediable" in 1894. She contributed many stories to the Yellow Book, All the Year Round, Blackwood's Magazine, Good Words, and Temple Bar which were eventually collected in two volumes of short stories, Monochromes (1895) and Modern Instances (1898). D'Arcy also published stories in the London Argosy under the male pseudonym of "Gilbert H. Page." D'Arcy wrote one novel, The Bishop's Dilemma, in 1898, and translated from the French Maurois' biography of Shelley, Ariel in 1924. Despite listings for upcoming projects such as a novel called Poor Human Nature, in the Bodley Head books, there are no other works by D'Arcy that have been recovered. Thought to be incurably idle by Nettie Syreett in Sheltering Tree, D'Arcy was even locked in her room by Henry Harland on one occasion until a story was finished. Although she is one of the most challenging and disillusioned New Women writers, her tales of bleak realism and psychological exploration have been largely ignored by twentieth century critics, with the notable exception of Benjamin F. Fisher IV.2 Recent reprints of her works in anthologies such as "The Villa Lucienne" in The Virago Book of Ghost Stories (1988), "Irremediable" in Victorian Short Stories 2: The Trials of Love (1990), and "The Pleasure Pilgrim" in NineteenthCentury Short Stories by Women (1993), and entries in the Stanford Companion to Victorian Fiction (1989) and The Feminist Companion to Literature in English (1990) demonstrate a continuing interest, even if not overwhelming, in D'Arcy's works. Like such other New Women writers as "George Egerton," Grant Allen, George Gissing and Mona Caird, D'Arcy professes a more radical feminism that considers the attainment of sexual freedom to be the route to the attainment of equality, and is concerned with the establishment of an ideal of femininity only in so far as she wants to subvert conventions in order to demonstrate the detrimental effects which the ideal had on the actual Victorian woman. Real women, D'Arcy suggests, have flaws, needs, and desires which are not acknowledged...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 35-48
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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