Constance Maynard's Passions: Religion, Sexuality, and an English Educational Pioneer, 1849–1935 by Pauline A. Phipps (review)
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Reviewed by
Pauline A. Phipps. Constance Maynard's Passions: Religion, Sexuality, and an English Educational Pioneer, 1849–1935. University of Toronto Press. x, 294. $65.00

This is a richly detailed biography of Constance Louisa Maynard which provides a welcome reinterpretation of the life and career of an important, early educational pioneer. Maynard was a middle-class, deeply religious, evangelical Christian who devoted her life to championing women's access to university education. She founded Westfield College for women in 1882 and became its first principal – a position she held as a single woman for thirty-one years until her retirement in 1913. Drawing extensively on Maynard's surviving records – her "green book," "daily diary," and autobiography – Pauline Phipps brings this account to life, unravelling the complexity of Maynard's experiences of faith, gender, and sexuality, and offering a sense of Maynard's significance and legacy.

Phipps concentrates on two inextricably linked aspects of Maynard's life and career, both of which, she argues, were underpinned by Maynard's evangelical faith. First, Maynard's academic achievements and dedication to her career in women's education, and second, her passionate relationships with other women. The first four chapters are devoted to understanding Maynard's formative years which, as suggested in the remainder of the book, shaped her later experiences as "Mistress" of Westfield College. While the chronological structure suits this aim, at times, it tends toward [End Page 264] some disorganization and repetition, thereby frustrating the development of broader interpretations that might have been drawn about Maynard's career and legacy as an educational pioneer, her intense same-sex relationships, and her evangelical faith. It also leaves some of the more unpleasant aspects – Maynard's views on class, nation, and racial superiority, as well as her poor treatment of other women – largely unexamined. While Phipps makes some attempt to address these issues, they become problematic in places where the mistreatment of others, especially those Maynard considered to be "inferior," can only be sensed by way of Maynard's derogatory thoughts and recollections. Particularly unsettling are the brief sections of the book which refer to Maynard's troubled relationships with vulnerable young women, especially the tragic story of Effie – Maynard's adopted (and soon rejected) child.

Phipps argues that Maynard negotiated her sense of self – her gender, sex, ambition, and passion – through her evangelical faith. Maynard's intense highs and lows were the result of her wavering between accepting and rejecting ambition and passion as God's gifts. Her determination to gain for women the university degree, which Phipps argues was a momentous step in forging equality of education for the sexes and women's social and economic independence, was based on Maynard's perception of herself as a "prophet." Maynard intended to create Westfield graduates who could confront an increasingly secular, capitalist, and masculinist society, by evangelizing the world with their theologically informed, academic intellect. This approach forged new careers for female students as missionaries, educators, and social workers.

Phipps further suggests that Maynard's evangelical upbringing and life-long faith inspired her understanding of love and desire, allowing her to satisfy her emotional-intellectual cravings for other women and appease her guilt over worldly passion. Maynard understood human love as the channel through which divine love could be experienced. Phipps demonstrates that Maynard's passionate encounters with college women took various forms – wife, lover, husband, mother – suggesting that college "raves" involved erotic role-playing that was more fluid and diverse than historians have previously recognized. According to her faith, Maynard simultaneously believed that choosing human love over divine love was depraved. On numerous occasions, this caused intense strain in her relationships and prompted several faith-based, emotional crises.

In opposition to the pervasive assumptions of modern British historiography, Phipps argues that Maynard's faith was not simply a repressive and limiting influence but remained a powerful means of negotiating sex, desire, gender, and ambition in ways that could also be empowering. Nevertheless, it is disappointing that Phipps suggests all too readily in her conclusion that Maynard's generation marked a turning point, and [End Page 265] that scientific discourses of sexology and psychology soon eclipsed these earlier, religiously...


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