"New Women" in the Late Victorian NovelBook - 1977
Most of the major challenges of the women's liberation movement, argues this book, were reflected in late 19th-century fiction, and this concern had a significant effect on the art of the novel.
Although primarily a work of criticism, the presentation is informed more than is customary by social history since the period covered was "a particularly tumultuous phase of the women's liberation movement" throughout Europe.
Professor Fernando's book was inspired by dissatisfaction with both the literary and social history of the late Victorian era. For one thing, histories of the women's emancipation movement are presented in conventional political terms, neglecting "the degree of imaginative adjustment individuals were called upon to make in response to the movement"--leaving that to the best novelists. For another, there is a common assumption that the interest of the major English novelists in the women's issue "was marginal to their art compared to their minor contemporaries." This book demonstrates that the ideas generated by the women's movement not only contributed to the abandonment of older ethical values, but also materially affected the greatest fictional achievements.
Following an introduction relating the novel to ideology in the period 1865-95, Professor Fernando presents chapters on George Eliot, Meredith, Moore, Gissing, and Hardy. He concludes with an epilogue showing echoes from these novelists in the writings of current supporters of the women's movement. The result is a work establishing links between an influential historical movement and the development of a modern literary genre.