George Gissing and the Woman Question: Convention and Dissent (The Nineteenth Century Series)

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It is clear by the traditional ending of the fairy tale that De Morgan is not objecting to marriage as such, but rather the means and reason for the union. The next tale I want to look at comes for the second volume, The Necklace of Princess Fiorimonde , and is the fairy tale of the same name. The story does not end, as so many traditional ones do, with a wedding, and indeed it subverts a number of fairy tale conventions. The story tells of a Princess so very beautiful that she must , according to both fairy tale and societal expectations, also be very good.

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In fact, she is very wicked. She learns black magic and sorcery from an old witch — hence her beauty. The time comes when her father, the King, decides that she must marry for the good of the kingdom, but Fiorimonde has no desire to wed, as a husband would stop her visiting the old witch, would stop her practising magic, and she would therefore lose her beauty. The old witch offers her the choice of turning her suitors into dogs, birds, or beads.

The Princess claps her hands with joy at the prospect of slinging each bead-Prince on a string and wearing them around her neck. Princess Fiorimonde, of course, eventually gets her comeuppance. Having successfully transformed eleven Princes into beads, she is tricked by a friend of the twelfth intended victim. The bead-Princes are restored to their human form and she herself is transformed forever into a bead as a punishment for her sorcery.

[PDF] George Gissing and the Woman Question: Convention and Dissent (The Nineteenth Century

No happy ending for this Princess. But this tale condemns far more than the art of black magic.


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It starts with a description of a perfect marriage. Arasmon and Chrysea are wandering musicians: he plays the lute, to which she sings beautifully, and people come from miles around to hear them play. In this one sentence, De Morgan describes the ingredients of an ideal union: mutual love and respect, a common interest, joint activity and equal contribution and payment.

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They were thin and bent, their faces pale and haggard, also their clothes looked old and threadbare…the houses were ill-built, and seemed to be almost tumbling down. The streets were uneven and badly kept. The soulless, poverty stricken village is a reflection of many in the late nineteenth century, devastated by urbanisation and industrialisation. Giles, one of the worst slums in London. Giles Unbeknownst to her husband, Chrysea manages to break the curse by repeating faultlessly an elfin tune, but as a result she is turned into a golden harp, which her husband finds the next day, and which he keeps with him for the rest of his life whilst he travels the world desperately searching for his missing wife.

Rather than the perfect marriage that was described at the start, we now have an indirect description of many Victorian marriages, in which both partners are performing the stereotypical gender roles prescribed by society. Arasmon gives up the lute and instead plays the golden harp, and although it is Chrysea who actually makes the beautiful music, it is her husband who is given the credit and the recognition. There can be no possible happy ending to such a tale, and she dies with her husband, of a broken heart, but the inference is that they will continue their idyllic marriage in heaven, where nothing, be it magic spells or social conventions, can affect them.

The fairy tales I have analysed in this essay have been about freedom: the freedom to refuse marriage to an unsuitable suitor but to still be accepted by society; the freedom to be respected as an imperfect human being rather than as idolised fragments; the freedom to marry and be married for love and not merely to be an adornment; the freedom to be an equal partner in a sharing, caring relationship. These are the same freedoms that New Women cried out for a decade or so later.

She sowed the seeds of domestic anarchy where one would perhaps least expect them — in her fairylands. She is currently working on a book of the life and works of Mary De Morgan, to be published September De Morgan was born in into a family of intellectuals, non-conformists and dissenters. Her father, Augustus , was a brilliant mathematician, whose De Morgan Laws are still of relevance to this day. Although well respected at the time as a craftsman, it was after he started writing novels, well into his sixties, that he eventually gained world-wide fame and fortune.

All the children but William, Anne and Mary died relatively young and before one or both of their parents, which was devastating for the family. She died of phthsis in and is buried in Cairo. Humphry Ward, Mrs. Lynn Linton, Mrs. Arnold Toynbee, Mrs.

The Rise of the Woman Writer in the 18th Century

It is a quote from a letter from Charles Lamb to Samuel T. Coleridge, in which Lamb vehemently denounces the likes of Mrs. Barbauld and Mrs.

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Trimmer, who had a great influence on what was considered appropriate reading material for children they encouraged rational books that conveyed knowledge rather than fanciful tales. Yet dress, particularly female dress and its limitations, was the subject of significant contemporary debates on rational dress, aesthetics and feminism Harberton, Bloomer, Grand. I argue that female cross-dressing is not just a deviant performance of sexuality, but essentially an arena for constructing the body and clothing as inherently erotic. While reviewing the main evidence of late-nineteenth century fiction it is clear that the transvestite becomes an invariable feature of the texts of the period.

In the decadent milieu of the ss, Grand seems to share a general distrust of the realm of aesthetics in its cultivation of the beautiful, its devotion to form, and its separation of ethics from the arts defended by Swinburne, Pater, and Wilde and of the core Decadent principles of exaggeration, degeneration, and the subversion of nature through the artificial defended by Huysmans, Baudelaire, and Beardsley.

It seems to me that Heilmann overlooks the central premise of late-nineteenth century literary renditions of cross-dressing as a form of play. It is worth noting in this context that both Oscar Wilde and his wife, Constance, were prominent among those urging the adoption of looser, lighter, healthier garments which acknowledged rather than travestied the needs of the human body.

With Grand there is no blurring of fact and fiction. What she advocates on the feminist platform is paradoxically at odds with her central female character. Divided into several chapters, the book gives advice on how and what to wear at home, in the country, in town, at Royal Ascot, and offers a full analysis of Dress in Literature including Milton, Pepys, Carlyle, and Tennyson.

To Douglas the final purpose of a rich and sumptuous female dress is decoration since the woman with good taste will match, and eventually, become her drawing-room curtains. In The Life and Writings of Amelia Bloomer , the difference between the advice given by Douglas and Bloomer is almost unbridgeable, in their description of female dress and the purposes it may serve. Women are confined by oppression and clothing is part of that subordination. I should hardly have thought it possible to convert a substantial young woman into such a slender, delicate-looking boy as I make. But it just shows how important dress is I thought I should like to see the market-place by moonlight, and then all at once I thought I would see it by moonlight.

That was my first weighty reason for changing my dress.

But having once assumed the character, I began to love it; it came naturally; and the freedom from restraint…was delicious. For Angelica, it is a question of following up a regular occupation going out at night to meet the Tenor — and there seems to be no other ulterior motive. Angelica thus offers a legitimate self-justification for trafficking in the wrong costume. Her research focuses on feminism, gender and late nineteenth-century English literature. Works Cited: Auerbach, Nina. Longman: London, Bland, Lucy. Penguin: London, Bonnell, Marilyn. Craft-Fairchild, Catherine.

Cross, Victoria. Elaine Showalter, ed. Virago: London, Douglas, Fanny. Dowling, Linda. III: Grand, Sarah.

XIII: An Interview with Madame Sarah Grand. Hardy, Thomas. Jude the Obscure, []. Macmillan: London, Heilmann, Ann.

George Gissing

Jackson, Holbrook. The Eighteen Nineties. Jonathan Cape: London, Lee, Vernon [Violet Paget].


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Ariadne in Mantua, to which are added Limbo, and other Essays [].