The new woman at home and abroad: Fiction, female identity and the British Empire
At the height of the British Empire, England was in the midst of major social, economic and moral upheaval. Arising from this commotion was the figure of the late Victorian and Edwardian ‘New Woman.’Her appearance on the domestic front provoked further confusion and ambiguity about gender that had repercussions for empire. Building on a previous article that explored how the many vitriolic attacks onthe British New Woman in the popular press and in popular and bestselling fiction were linked to anxiety about the future of the Empire, this essay examines, not the threat to nation and empire represented by the British New Woman,but rather the New Woman in the colonial peripheries. It turns to two very different models of British colonialism – Ireland and Australia – and asks how differently the New Woman was presented to the general reading public at the end of the nineteenth- and beginning of the twentieth century. Was the colonial New Woman represented as less of a threat to the reading public than the British New Woman? Or vice versa? Was the presentation of an Irish and an Australian New Woman very different? Did they each signify an equally potent threat to the British Empire...or otherwise? This paper will argue that although there were important similarities in the fictional representations of each of these New Women, there were also significant differences and these differences were due, for the most part, to the respective positions of these countries on the imperial spectrum.
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