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  • Radical Trespassing
  • Nadine Tschacksch
Elizabeth F. Evans. Threshold Modernism: New Public Women and the Literary Spaces of Imperial London. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019. xii + 261 pp. $99.75

IN THRESHOLD MODERNISM, Elizabeth F. Evans makes a commendable contribution to the vibrant academic discourse on late-nineteenth- and early twentieth-century London as a literary space, remarkably without limiting the study to modernist literature. Evans's focus is threefold on gender, class, and race within the context of three threshold spaces between private and public: first, shops and department stores; secondly, streets; and third, women's clubs. She investigates the literary figure of the new public woman (with all the facets of meaning this term implies) "at the intersection of space, identity studies, and narrative" and articulates the underlying social and historical meanings of London sights and places. The fact that Evans supports her analyses visually by mapping the places visited in the texts is a superb, immensely useful addition.

In her first chapter Evans contextualises contemporary typological categories, such as "professional woman," "new woman," "odd woman," and "shopgirl," and argues convincingly that these types chafe against the long-held view that only round characters are worthy of the reader's interest and that social types do not provide rich material for analysis. [End Page 466] Transgressing into spheres that had previously been closed to them (either because of their sex or their class), the New Woman and other types raised anxieties about the social order—an interesting issue, especially for modernist writers and their preoccupation with the disruption of tradition. Evans then challenges "the assumption that, insofar as she is a spectacle, a woman cannot be spectator, and relatedly, that the object of the gaze is so objectified that she is drained of subjectivity." None better than the figure of the barmaid to make this point, as she is often of lower class than the men she serves, is hyper aware of her customers' gaze but, at the same time, actively seeks to attract their attention and attraction in order to marry out of her profession, Evans argues by dint of W. E. Henley's London Types (1898) and James Joyce's Ulysses (1922). She returns to the gaze in chapter three where she poignantly argues that "women's need for self-monitoring in the streets—their prescribed need to regulate both where and how they walk—may become a form of self-surveillance that in effect internalizes the male gaze so that her self-consciousness as object no longer requires an external viewer."

Chapter two introduces another social type, the shopgirl, shown to be a "liminal figure, particularly when she displayed on her person the clothes for sale." Evans chronicles the shopgirl's evolution in literature, from Henry James's The Princess Casamassima (1886) to Amy Levy's The Romance of a Shop (1888) and George Gissing's The Odd Woman (1893), all of which reflect "different phases in popular concerns about women's work outside the home and about shopwork in particular." In The Princess Casamissima Evans draws attention to Millicent Henning's movements around London, which make her shift between respectability and disreputability. Evans shows that by walking unchaperoned through London a woman risked her reputation. Men felt free to ogle and the mark of a lady was that she pretended not to notice. At work in a shop, Millicent is exposed to the male gaze, especially in a scene Evans points out as "remarkable in that, while entrapping Millicent between the gazes of two men, it also implicates the reader in her objectification." Conversely, Levy insists "on the respectability of women's commercial pursuits," making Gertrude and Lucy shop owners instead of mere employees and giving them some control over "the gaze of spectators" as they "negotiate their own representation." Gissing, meanwhile, is shown to draw parallels between prostitution and shopwork, stressing the original meaning of "public woman." Yet this chapter also highlights a theme which is picked up in [End Page 467] the very last chapter of this work: Englishness and how the Lorimer sisters' and Millicent's virtue is contrasted with the Otherness of foreign characters.

In chapter three, Evans returns to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 466-470
Launched on MUSE
2020-03-16
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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