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Reviewed by:
  • Women's Experience of Modernity, 1875-1945
  • Sonita Sarker (bio)
Women's Experience of Modernity, 1875-1945 Edited by Ann L. Ardis and Leslie W. LewisJohns Hopkins University Press, 2003

Even with the recent growth in new analyses of modernism's many facets, this collection is a necessary reminder of feminist aesthetic, political, and consumer practices as mobile phenomena at the intersection of economic, cultural, and sociopolitical changes. The volume displays the diverse ways women, in a range of contexts across the world, actively use technologies emerging in the late nineteenth through the first part of the twentieth century to participate in the public sphere. This participation includes a direct engagement with the growing professionalization of discourses (such as sexology and sociology) and a challenge to the perceived divide between the quotidian and "high" art. There is also a variety of genres featured in the volume—literary work, photographic journalism, psychological treatises, political pamphlets, and sexual advice manuals, to name a few. History and literature are the main disciplinary foci, but they are presented as discursive means rather than as preset frameworks, while the essays simultaneously pay attention to the materiality of these means.

The volume consists of three sections: "Negotiating the Literary Marketplace," "Outside the Metropolis," and "The Shifting Terrain of Public Life." The first contains essays on Alice Meynell, Pauline Hopkins, Jane Addams, H. D., Radclyffe Hall, and Opal Whiteley; the second includes essays on Toru Dutt, Emma Dunham Kelly-Hawkins, Olive Schreiner, and Bram Stoker's Lady Arabella; and the third on Ida B. Wells, Rebecca West, Djuna Barnes, and Marie Stopes. In each of the sections, the common approach is to connect previous [End Page 213] eras to what is known as the modernist era so that periodization itself is problematized and disconnections revisited. The essays on Alice Meynell, Radclyffe Hall, and Rebecca West, for example, position their subjects in the movement from the late Victorian to the modern.

The sense of movement carries through occasionally and well in the image of the omnibus, a source of excitement and ambivalence that materially and metaphorically is the vehicle of women's transgression; it is also the subject of a chapter on the narratives of Amy Levy, and another on Bradley and Cooper, Tynan, and Meynell. In a larger sense, the movement encapsulated in the chapters reflects the epistemological and philosophical boundaries that the volume aims to cross. Terms such as Georgian, Edwardian, Victorian, and fin de siècle set the historical framework that is both recognized and reexamined. However, writers and producers of modernity like Toru Dutt, Khun Fa, and Olive Schreiner are merely inserted into that prevailing rubric. "The larger context of the global diaspora of European feminist thought" (5) dominates and others remain defined in terms of their origins, namely, "the outposts of the English-speaking world" (5).

As many have been discovering in the last half-century of literary, cultural, and sociological analyses, definitions occur not only through juxtapositions but through relationalities. The claim that the introduction makes, that modernity as a term is pluralized, is held up with regard to intellectual legacies from previous eras and a range of locations but not in terms of the unique, albeit intersecting, bases of modernities. The essays about those whom Felski in the afterword calls the "nonwhite" (294) rely on theoretical frameworks from a dominant Anglo-American modernity/modernism. Section I is based in a dichotomy of black and white. The "non-Western" (294), including Schreiner and Kelley-Hawkins, are separated out from the others into section II. The structure of the collection, in which section II is organized on the basis of otherness and section III in terms of genre, reinforces a continuously sustained belief that modernism originates in the "center" and is repeated and modified in the "margins" rather than that modernity generates different, unequal, and relational activities across national and other identity boundaries.

The intersectionality of gender, race, nation, and sexuality, in which all three impinge upon each other and are shaped by imbrication, appears to have been elided to a surprising degree in a volume [End Page 214] that focuses on women in modernism. To take only one of...


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