Publication Details

Crozier-De Rosa, S. M. 2014, 'Shame, Marie Corelli, and the "New Woman" in Fin-de-Siecle Britain fin-de-siecle Britain', in A. Brooks and D. Lemmings (eds), Emotions and Social Change: Historical and Sociological Perspectives, Taylor and Francis, New York. pp. 252

Additional Publication Information

ISBN: 9780415856058


Phenomenally popular fin-de-siecle celebrity Marie Carelli, in her fictional and nonfictional writing, repeatedly affirmed that the era's iconic New Woman represented not the promise but the threat of "modernity." Modernity, as represented by the New Woman, did not extend the civilizing process. Rather, it jeopardized it. By challenging rules of behavior that were integral to the civilized state, the New Woman threatened a return to a previous state of barbarianism. Indeed, by refusing to allow a proper feeling of womanly shame to regulate her thoughts and actions, this icon of modernity seemed to counter Norbert Elias's understanding of the symbiotic relationship between advancing frontiers of shame and the progression of civilization. Given that this New Woman's improper behavior threatened to destabilize English society and interrupt British imperialism-Britain's international role of bringing "civilisation" to others-as self-appointed "guardian of the public conscience," Carelli took it upon herself to attempt to shame her. More accurately, she took it upon herself to elicit "proper" feelings of guilt and shame from her readers, particularly her female readers, whose sympathies dared to stray too closely toward the damaging feminist aspirations of the unseemly and unwomanly New Woman, and the decivilizing process she apparently championed.

Carelli unambiguously opposed what she saw as the transgressive New Woman's decivilizing drive; nevertheless her writing demonstrates her era's accommodation of a complex attitude toward the notion of human progress and its inevitability or otherwise. By the early decades of the twentieth century, Britain had reached what Carelli termed a state of "over-ripe civilisation." So, while this celebrity writer railed against the New Woman's threatened instigation of a decivilizing process, she simultaneously, and somewhat paradoxically, promoted a limited reversal of civilization. Importantly, she only advocated a partial, controlled rolling back of "progress" to a time when human relations were not threatened by an attempted obliteration of sexual difference. In the endeavor to restore civilization to a state of balance-to reverse cultural change-Corelli worked to reinstate the frontier of shame: specifically, womanly shame. Given her rule as "queen of the bestsellers" for almost three decades-given that her writing was such an integral and ongoing part of the era's public debate-her large body of work casts light on just how accepted her literary technique of using emotions to attempt to effect wider cultural change was at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century.