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Reviews97 Valerie Sanders. Eve's Renegades: Victorian Anti-Feminist Women Novelists. New York: St. Martin's P, 1996. ix + 249. The impetus for Valerie Sander's work for Eve's Renegades came from a 1981 review by Martha Vicinus commenting on the need for further research on "the enemies of feminism" in the nineteenth century. Sanders, focusing on four Victorian women novelists — Eliza Lynn Linton, Charlotte Mary Yonge, Margaret Oliphant, and Mary Ward — whom she regards in this light, describes her study as examining "patterns of self-contradiction and debate in their writings" (2). She compares the four novelists in chapters concerning their views on other women writers (Eliot, Austen, the Brontes), on their heroines, their heroes, their views of religion, and their journalism, which she notes as being in all cases "more overtly anti-feminist than the novels" (8). She begins her study with a rapid overview of anti-feminist women writing between 1792 — the year when Mary Wollstonecraft published her Vindication of the Rights of Women — and 1850. Sanders speaks of her desire both to avoid "withdrawing into elitism" and "elaborate forms of wordplay" and to remember "that the novels discussed were about the painful frustrations and confused allegiances of daily domestic life" (9). She certainly succeeds in these goals, and her work, based on a careful reading of a selection of her subjects' writings, consistently retains the reader's interest. Sanders acknowledges some of the difficulties of her task, writing that "feminism and anti-feminism are . . . inchoate groupings of ideas with much in common" (204) and showing some awareness of the problems of "unstable ideology and the slippage of terms" (5). She is content — reasonably enough — to define her working terms quite loosely: at one phase or other in their careers all four writers argued explicitly against proposed changes in the traditional position of women. Unfortunately, however, she tends to treat these writers as though their thought were unitary. That is, while she acknowledges "self-contradiction" in their writings and notes that Oliphant, for instance, is sometimes seen as "more feminist than anti-feminist" (153), she gives little sense of their development as novelists or thinkers. Nor does she establish fully that their various novels and journalistic writings emerge from particular literary, social and historical contexts. This tendency to discuss without differentiation long and productive careers, in which these women survived varying social, economic, and personal pressures, leads her into inaccuracies. It is inaccurate, for instance, to claim that any anti-feminist a century ago would consider attending a university "outrageously unfeminine" (5). Yonge, one of her chosen subjects, towards the end of the century sent several of her 98Victorian Review fictional young women to Oxford and represented them as being improved by their university experience. She was, after all, a good friend of Elizabeth Wordsworth, who in 1879 became the first Principal of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. And in 1878 Mary Ward herself became one of the first secretaries of the Somerville Committee; Somerville College (then Somerville Hall), Oxford, also opened in 1879. Sometimes Sanders's sweeping statements contradict her own evidence. For instance, she argues that "each of these novelists took as her central theme the popular Victorian story of a young woman's coming-to-consciousness; her perplexity over her life-choices and her selection of a suitable mate" (201). This plot may provide "a central theme" perhaps in a couple of books by each of them, but Sanders herself writes about Linton's The Autobiography of Christopher Kirkland, Yonge's Heir of Redclyffe, Oliphant's Salem Chapel, and Ward's Robert Elsmere. None of these novels — all essential to any serious discussion of their writers — is especially concerned with this central plot; nor are these works untypical. Again, in her chapter on heroines, she notes the way in which Yonge's female characters must invariably learn submission and undergo humiliation. Yet in her next chapter she comments on the humiliations undergone by Philip Morville in The Heir of Redclyffe. She might well have added many more examples of the humiliated hero — the lives of Louis, Viscount Fitzjocelyn in Dynevor Terrace or the May brothers in The Daisy Chain can seem like one long...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 97-99
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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