Victorian Feminists

Victorian Feminists

Victorian Feminists

Victorian Feminists

Synopsis

A study of Victorian feminism, this book focuses on four leading feminists: Emily Davies, Frances Power Cobbe, Josephine Butler, and Millicent Garrett Fawcett. Caine uncovers the range, diversity, and complexity of Victorian feminism, and examines the relationship between personal experience and feminist commitment. Caine sets her carefully researched biographical studies of the four women, each with her own fascinating history, in the context of the Victorian feminist movement. She explores the ideas and strategies of feminists in the late nineteenth century, analyzing the tensions which arose as they sought to achieve their aims and focusing on the complex relationship of party politics and feminist commitment. Caine's insight into the vision and beliefs of these Victorian feminists is balanced by her scholarly understanding of the society within which they worked. She gives us vivid and perceptive portraits of four very different individuals, who nevertheless shared a commitment to improving the lot of women.

Excerpt

This book on Victorian feminism has had a long period of gestation -- some ten years altogether. From the time that I became interested in women's history in the early 1970s, my attention has been focused on feminist ideas and activities. In part, this was a result of the lack of general historical works on Victorian women at the time. Lacking other bibliographical aids, when I decided I wanted to know something about women in Victorian England, I began simply by looking up the catalogue entries under 'Woman' and 'Women' first in the Public Library in Sydney and then in the British Museum. It was a wonderful introduction to the field as I came upon a vast wealth of miscellaneous books, pamphlets, sermons, autobiographies, and essays on a host of different questions. But of course the greatest number was devoted to arguing about the nature and the duties of women and about whether their existing situation was unjust and amenable to change. There were suffrage and anti-suffrage writings, debates about whether or not women could regenerate society, about whether the existing marriage laws were unjust, and about whether or not a man should be allowed to marry his deceased wife's sister. In all it rapidly became clear the 'woman question' was not only a complex and multilayered one, but that it had been a major preoccupation throughout the nineteenth century.

The great body of this material centred on feminist activity and on the women's movement and it was this question which I took up. Frances Cobbe's autobiography and her collections of essays came to light very early in this process of exploration and, like many recent feminist scholars, I was quite fascinated by Cobbe's attacks on marriage, her advocacy of celibacy, and her adulation of close female friendships, and then by her criticism of the medical profession and her insistence that it played a central role in maintaining women's oppression. But alongside all of this was the need . . .

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