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  • The Quandaries of Periodization; or, When Does a New Woman Become a Modernist?
  • Helen Davies
Modernism and the Women’s Popular Romance in Britain, 1885–1925. Martin Hipsky. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2011. Pp. xxi + 324. $59.95 (cloth).
Writing Women of the Fin de Siècle: Authors of Change. Adrienne E. Gavin and Carolyn W. de la L. Oulton, eds. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Pp. xviii + 248. $90.00 (cloth).
Plays and Performance Texts by Women, 1880–1930: An Anthology of Plays by British and American Women from the Modernist Period. Maggie B. Gale and Gilli Bush-Bailey, eds. New York: Manchester University Press, 2012. Pp. x + 652. $110.00 (cloth); $35.00 (paper).

In “The New Woman in Fiction and in Fact,” first published in Humanitarian in November 1894, M. Eastwood draws a pointed contrast to suggest that the fictional constructions of New Women are disappointing and limited in comparison with the “kaleidoscopic variety” of the actual women who can be encompassed by this term. Though her references to the fictional versions of the New Woman reproduce stereotypes of the late-Victorian press, they also express dissatisfaction with some aspects of the genre of New Woman writing, particularly those that would depict seductive, exciting visions of women’s emancipation only to conclude with representations of conventional domestic drudgery. Eastwood boldly proclaims that “The New Woman of today will be the woman of the future. . . . Here has begun the radical change which is to effect the future generations.”1 Eastwood evidently perceives the modernity of the New Woman and that this modernity will be a formative influence upon twentieth-century gender politics. However, the extent to which the New Woman has a direct relationship with twentieth-century [End Page 115] literary history and culture—namely, with modernism—is contentious. Although critics such as Janet Eldridge Miller and Ann Ardis have claimed the New Woman as part of the modernist lineage,2 Sally Ledger has cautioned against installing New Woman writing as an unproblematic period of modernism’s genealogy.3 Such debates also inspire a further round of quandaries regarding periodization and terminology. What qualifies a female author of the fin de siècle as a “New Woman”? Must this designation be reserved for women whose work overtly demonstrates feminist sympathies or whose literary productions can be located in a genre of “New Woman” writing? Or do such definitions actually limit the “kaleidoscopic variety” that Eastwood identifies in the myriad manifestations of New Women at the end of the nineteenth century? Such questions are not easily answered, yet the three texts considered in this essay offer some routes of speculation for thinking through some connections between fin-de-siècle women’s writing and the New Woman, between late-Victorian literature and modernism, and between genre and the politics of gender in the years between 1880 and 1930.

Martin Hipsky’s Modernism and the Women’s Popular Romance in Britain engages with issues of genre and gender in the writing of the late-Victorian and early modernist periods. The study ambitiously aims to relocate women romance writers within the broader literary history of the modernist period, suggesting that, despite obvious differences between popular romance fiction and “high” modernism, there are still productive parallels to be drawn between these seemingly disparate modes of writing. These potential connections are contextualized in the first chapter, which outlines the conventional gendering of romance as feminine. Hipsky’s comparisons between popular romance and modernism are supported via two key critical sources, which return repeatedly throughout the study. The first of these is Gillian Beer’s critical work on romance, particularly with regard to her distinction between the realistic mode as engagement with the known world and the romance mode as engagement with “hidden dreams of that world” (6). The second critical source is Rita Felski’s discussion of the “popular sublime” as “a romantic yearning for the ineffable”; Felski claims that popular romances indicate a desire to think beyond limitations of everyday reality and the material world (7). These two perspectives allow space for points of connection between the popular romance and “high modernism”; within the genre of women’s popular romance writing, the...


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