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Eliza Lynn Linton, Sarah Grand and the Spectacle of the Victorian Woman Question: Catch Phrases, Buzz Words and Sound Bites Andrea L. Broomfield Johnson County Community College Overland Park, Kansas ELIZA LYNN LINTON AND SARAH GRAND both had talent for drawing attention to themselves and to their causes. Linton ignited the Woman Question in the popular press while Grand ignited the New Woman Question. Linton fanned the flames by naming the Girl of the Period, and Grand fanned them harder by naming—with Ouida's help— the New Woman.1 Linton created antifeminist popular rhetoric; Grand adeptly used Linton's work to create a feminist popular rhetoric. At the same time, the two managed to keep up a battle of words in the press that had journalists and readers alike talking, indeed, a battle that continues to propel scholarly assessment of how the two women represent opposite poles of the Victorian women's rights debate. Some literary and journalism historians have begun to look beyond the contents of Woman Question articles in order to understand how the question and its key players were influenced by the media. In Women of the Press in Nineteenth-Century Britain, for example, Barbara Onslow recognizes that Linton was the "consummate journalist" who helped commodify the women's rights debate in the press, and that Grand could then exploit Linton's catch phrases thirty years later.2 Talia Schaffer, Chris Willis, and Angélique Richardson likewise have written about the New Woman as a media as well as a social construct. Nonetheless, many scholars continue to depend on periodical articles, particularly those written by Linton, Grand, and other Woman Question contributors, to write analyses of the Victorian women's rights move251 ELT 47 : 3 2004 ment and how feminist and antifeminist forces clashed.3 While careful to enclose the women's famous catch phrases in quotation marks to indicate their slippery nature, scholars nonetheless use the catch phrases as an acceptable, unproblematic shorthand. Tusan's "Inventing the New Woman: Print Culture and Identity Politics during the Fin-de-Siècle" is representative: "By the 1870s and 1880s, popular journals, magazines, and novels joined the outcry and lampooned politically active women as the 'shrieking sisterhood,' labeling them 'Wild' or 'Odd.'"4 Recent literary historians might point out that Grand manipulated the Woman Question to profit personally, or that the contradictions between Grand's writings on social purity and her feminism warrant scrutiny, but Grand's pronouncements about the Woman Question are often treated as trustworthy commentary, as is evidenced in Ann Heilmann's analysis of Grand's "The New Aspect of the Woman Question": "The Woman Question is the Marriage Question," declared Sarah Grand in 1894 in "The New Aspect of the Woman Question," an article which rang in the New Woman debates. While men had reduced women to the polarized and equally degrading functions of breeding (the "cow-woman") and sexual servicing (the "scum-woman"), the New Woman had "solved the problem" and "prescribed the remedy": women had "no choice" but individually and collectively to come to the rescue of their abused sex... .5 Finally, literary critics and historians have analyzed the reasons for inconsistencies in Linton's pronouncements regarding women's roles, as well as her motivations for writing the Girl of the Period (GOP) series, but nonetheless, Linton's articles are often regarded as a valuable record of Victorian antifeminism.6 However, the women's articles and catch phrases are complicated and unreliable in many instances. As a result, they deserve even greater scrutiny than they have previously been given. Grand's and Linton's articles , along with those of Mona Caird, Millicent Garrett Fawcett, Margaret Oliphant, and Ouida, are as much products of a rapidly changing journalism industry as they are products of history or literature. Understanding Linton and Grand from that perspective raises unsettling questions about the intersections of journalism and women's rights, for their articles represent the confluence of several, at times antithetical, agendas. Perhaps more so than other contributors, Grand and Linton understood the shifting, subtle dynamics of the commercial press and exploited its fluid nature. Aware that their futures depended in part on how effectively they fomented...


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pp. 251-272
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Will Be Archived 2021
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