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¿J '(Q^ J I /r φ.°β The Ambivalence of Influence: The Case of Mary Ward and Charlotte Yonge Laura Fasick Moorhead State University BLOOMIAN THEORIES about the anxiety of influence can be especially powerful when applied to female writers, as Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar have shown. When the magisterial predecessors against whom a woman author must measure herself are almost exclusively male, the intimidating effect of prior genius becomes especially strong. And until recently the literary pantheon has been almost entirely masculine. Apparently only after the emergence of George Eliot as virtually an "honorary male" literary star is there a woman writer deemed powerful enough to be threatening (and inspiring) to other female authors.1 Yet though the Bloomian anxiety of influence consists largely of fearing to become merely the disciple of a literary giant, there can also be another anxiety: the dread of being lumped in with the non-prestigous . This dread, perhaps, has been particularly important in women authors' relations with their female predecessors and peers. Women have a long history of writing, but not necessarily of having their writing taken seriously, even by other women. One might remember George Eliot's tart dismissal of any resemblance between her works and those of less erudite female writers.2 Often, in order for women to enter (or attempt to enter) realms of "high culture," they have had to renounce female models, influences, and values. The example of Mary Ward's literary relationship with Charlotte Yonge provides a case study of the gains and losses that can mark a woman's attempt to define herself as intellectually "serious" in male terms. In Ward's case, the strains of the attempt apparently contribute to her enthusiastic adoption of plot 141 ELT 37:2 1994 conventions and modes of characterization that belittle female characters . Replacing Yonge as England's most popular female religious novelist , Ward also replaced potentially affirmative elements in Yonge's treatment of women with an intensely limiting ideology of romantic love. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar have suggested that "the literary phenomenon ordinarily called 'modernism' is ... a product of... sexual battle."3 Although "modernism" for Ward would have meant primarily a theological movement within the Anglican Church rather than a literary phenomenon, she consistently identified herself with what she considered advanced thought. It is ironic, then, that throughout the "ongoing [literary] battle of the sexes," Ward was writing novels "inflected" with much of the same resistance to "the late nineteenth-century rise of feminism" that Gilbert and Gubar ascribe to her male peers.4 like those peers, she wrote to uphold the authority of the "proto-Victorian sage," who alone can give "direction" to otherwise aimless or misguided females .5 Ironically, Ward sought to assume such a sage's role herself. Never entirely secure as a writer, Ward seems to have identified with masculine culture in order to separate herself, as intellectual and creator, from the limitations that her fiction presents as natural for all women. Today, when Mary Ward is remembered, it is usually as the niece of Matthew Arnold and the author of Robert Elsmere (1888), one of the nineteenth century's great best-sellers and most earnest explications of religious disbelief. At her funeral, however, she was eulogized as "perhaps the greatest Englishwoman of our time"6: a tribute to her fame as prolific author, public activist, and social critic.7 Ward herself consciously aimed to be accepted as a late-Victorian sage, a true heir of her uncle and a fit commentator on contemporary life and literature. As part of this persona, she craved recognition as an artist. The pages of her autobiography, A Writer's Recollections (1918), are as focused on her literary career as the title would suggest. In discussing and celebrating her success, Ward consistently celebrates also the great minds and writers whose mentorship she claims. From Matthew Arnold to Walter Pater to Mark Pattison to Henry James, her memoirs glitter with the names of a late-Victorian and Edwardian intellectual elite. One name Ward does not include, however, is that of Charlotte Yonge, the High Anglican novelist and editor of The Monthly Packet, a girls' magazine that counted the young Mary...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 141-154
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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