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First-Wave Feminist Engagements with History Introduction Ann Heilmann This issue is concerned with teasing out aspects of the complex relationship between first-wave feministwriting and history in its broadest definition. History, here, is understood as encompassing historical processes as well as historiography and the historicity of narrative writing and cultural mythologies. The essays included in this issue — originally presented at the international "Hysterical Fictions : Women, History, Authorship" conference hosted by Swansea University, UK, in August 2003 — examine some of me ways in which Victorian and Edwardian women writers and women's rights activists approached "history" from a feminist angle, engaging in what in 1971 Adrienne Rich conceptualized as the feminist project of "re-vision:" "the act of looking back, of seeingwith fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction" (90). In writing — and writing about — cultural and political history as an act of feminist "rescription," turn-of-the-century women writers were exploring the parameters of what second-wave feminists have termed "herstory." Informed by feminist revisionism, this early herstorical undertaking aimed to problematize the historical roots of women's confinement to patriarchal narratives. As the first two essays suggest, this is evidenced in Mona Caird's interrogation of the Gothic genre and of Classical mythology. First-wave feminists also set out to produce counter-histories whose focus on the women's movement directed readers' attention to the gaps in conventional history writing. Intriguingly , as Maria DiCenzo's contribution shows, these counter-histories Victorian Review (2005) A. Heilmann often involved the contestation of contemporaneous historiographies produced from within the women's movement, as different factions sought to establish their originary status and predominance within feminist history. The issue begins with the prominent turn-of-the-century feminist and New Woman writer Mona Caird, who gained considerable notoriety in the socio-cultural landscape of late-Victorian Britain with the publication of her radical historicist deconstruction of "Marriage" in 18881 and other essays on the subject, later collected in TheMoraäty of Marriage (1897). Caird's journalistic dissection of the history of patriarchal societies and its legacy for Victorian gender relations was complemented by her narrative indictment of marriage and motherhood in novels like The Wing ofA^rael(ÍS89) and The Daughters of Danaus (1894). In her essay on "Female Gothic Motifs in Mona Caird's The Wing ofAqrael' Agnieszka Zabicka considers Caird's manipulations of a popular and, through Ann Radcliffe already feminized, genre — the Gothic novel — arguing that Caird aimed to forge a new feminist form with which to refute the injunctions of duty and self-abnegation that society exacted from women. As Zabicka illustrates, Caird invoked standard tropes of Radcliffean Gothic — the ruined casde, the distressed heroine in the grasp of an unscrupulous villain, the dichotomy between the masculine architecture of the casde and the sublimity of a feminized nature — only to subvert them, presenting her protagonist as a complex characterwith conflicting and even "improper," quasi-masculine (adulterous and murderous) impulses, which are mirrored in the tumultuous sea and wave imagery of the text. Drawing on Anne Williams' reading of the trope of Bluebeard's chamber in Gothic fiction, Zabicka reads the casde as an ambiguous site of both domestic entrapment and also female self-questing, arguing that Caird sought to invigorate the female Gothic with a new feminist consciousness. This emerging feminist aesthetic is also reflected in the narrative paradigms of Caird's artist-novel The Daughters of Danaus. In "Medea volume 31 number 1 Introduction at the Fin de Siècle" I investigate Caird's revisionist use of Classical mythology as a feminist strategy of re-vision. In her representation of the thwarted artist Hadria Fullerton Caird invoked the Medea trope, reclaiming the creative agency of this mythical figure which, since Euripides' play, cultural history had obscured with its central emphasis on Medea's infanticidal actions. In reconstructing Medea as a tragic heroine, Caird sought to dismande the foundation stories which underpinned the demonization of me feminist rebel in order to draw attention to the plight of the woman artist in late-Victorian society. In doing so she radicalized an emergent female tradition, while anticipating modernist experimentation with mythopoeic forms. The final...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 1-4
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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