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202Victorian Review of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing. The debate was not about Erickson, or even restricted to publishing and literature, but about the place of book history in contemporary scholarship. LESLIE HOWSAM University of Windsor Kathryn Gleadle. The Early Feminists: Radical Unitarians and the Emergence of the Women's Rights Movement, 1831-51. New York: St. Martin's P, 1994. viii + 266. $59.95 US (cloth). Historians of nineteenth-century feminism have long argued that die woman's movement in Britain began in the 185Os, centering on the Langham Place Group and The Englishwoman' s Review. Kathryn Gleadle's new work challenges this chronology. She argues that the feminist movement began in the 183Os and 1840s, led by a group of "radical Unitarians." Unlike most Unitarians, the radicals had a distinct feminist viewpoint and pioneered many of the ideas and strategies later used in die Victorian women's movement. These early feminists were dominated by middle-class intellectuals, especially writers. Their ideology was based on a belief in perfectibility of humanity; i other words, women's rights were one strand in the general progress of society. Thus, the entire culture had to change before all human beings would be equal. In consequence, radicals stressed education above all. They also believed in cooperation (such as in associated housing schemes), although not at the expense of the nuclear family or marriage. In contrast to later feminists, the movement was led by men, since most of the people involved, including the women, believed women were too "degraded" to succeed as leaders. Ultimately, though, education would free women to become independent, and reason would overcome pure physical force, leading to a better society for all. Gleadle demonstrates that many of the themes of feminists in the late Victorian period were introduced by die radical Unitarians. They championed women's suffrage, criticizing the Chartists for excluding women, and worked to reform die laws restricting the rights of married women. They argued for divorce reform, connecting the problems of unhappy marriages with the rise of prostitution; in addition, they supported female sex education. The radicals even formed clubs, known Reviews203 as Whittington clubs, which admitted women on equal terms (at least in London). Gleadle argues that despite difficulties, the Whittington clubs made some headway in allowing more equal social intercourse between men and women and in granting women managerial experience. The radical movement faded by die end of die 1840s, due to deadis and defections. By the end of die decade, die leaders had broken into single-issue groups concentrating on specific legal reforms. In this, they foreshadowed die tactics of the Victorian feminists, especially in their attempts to center on issues (such as domestic violence) that garnered public support. As new tactics and leaders developed, die movement shaded into that of the Victorians. The connections between the feminists of the 183Os and diose of die 185Os seems incontrovertible. The Early Feminists is splendidly researched; Gleadle has combed private papers, committee minutes, and scores of publications, teasing out information from previously unexplored works. She succeeds in restoring to prominence many lesser-known radicals, especially die novelist Mary Leman Grimstone, as well as highlighting the contributions of some better-known activists, like W.J. Linton and Mary and William Howitt. The radicals are unabashedly Gleadle's heroes and heroines, and she seems personally affronted that diey have been "overlooked" and "forgotten," two words she uses in every chapter, and, in some sections, on almost every page. This hero-worship is the source of the book's one major weakness. Except in die chapter on the Whittington clubs and a few pages in die conclusion, Gleadle is not analytical or critical of the ideas of her protagonists. Yet, clearly tiieir emphasis on ideas and education limited dieir appeal and effectiveness. Gleadle admits diat die movement mainly helped die middle-class women in it rather dian the vast majority outside of it, but she seldom analyzes die reasons for this. The result is a poorer book than might have been. For example, the radicals understood diat lack of job opportunities hurt women's attempts at independence. However, dieir solution was primarily to write...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 202-204
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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