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Victorian New Woman: Shaw's Views
Victiorian New Woman
In their analysis of the 'sexualized visions of change and exchange' which mark the end of the nineteenth century (Smith, Marshall University) 1 and the uncertain formation of the twentieth, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar read the leitmotif of the late-Victorian New Woman as one fantasy among many, part of a sequence of imaginative literary extremes that reflects the changing stakes in an escalating war between the sexes. As Gilbert and Gubar understand this sequence, the New Woman emerges against palette of other phantasmagoric images-most notably, the femme fatale, who, in Swinburne's words, incarnates male anxieties about that 'silent anger against God and man' which 'burns, white and repressed, through her clear features.' Like the femme fatale, the New Woman is also commonly read as an image of hyperbolic female ascendancy. In fact, both images seem to answer the narrative of the sexualized but disempowered 'fallen woman' with an alternative narrative of 'sexchange,' to use
Gilbert and Gubar's formulation. By appropriating the outward signs of masculine virility and control, both the femme fatale and the New Woman shift the balance of power, as female sexuality becomes the site of erotic authority rather than simply of radical otherness.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti's 'Sister Helen' (1854) presents a challenge to this family resemblance by subordinating (Smith, Marshall University) 1 the femme fatale's sex masquerade to her more defining emasculating potential. In the end, Helen is 'fatal' to Keith of Ewern not because she consumes him sexually but because he endeavours to resist. More significant than the fact of Helen's nuptial curse upon Keith and his bride, however, is the question Helen's brother poses at the beginning of the poem, for it is the Ur-question that confronts any feminism willing to use gender to subversive ends: 'Why did you melt your waxen man, / Sister Helen?' Little brother's question highlights a systematic power reversal rather than reformation, a transposition ironically embodied in the popular iconography of the overly caricatured New Woman some forty years later yet radically challenged in the more polychromatic, less Amazonian New Woman of the novel form. How, then, do we distinguish the sex masquerades of the New Woman from those of the femme fatale? And in what way might the New Woman's erotic authority be refigured as an enabling rather than disabling misalliance?
Structurally (Smith, Marshall University) 1, transgender fantasies in New Woman fiction are usually developed in generic juxtaposition with, rather than as a consequence of, the narrated 'real.' That is to say, sex masquerades neither require nor complete a reversal of patriarchal sex right; rather, they occur alongside of and in spite of that right-as dreams, daydreams, and other fantastic interludes. Consider, for example, Mary Cholmondeley's
Red Pottage (1899). Although now considered a New
Woman novel, Cholmondeley's fifth and most successful novel achieved enormous popularity initially as a sensational melodrama. At first glance, the scandal of the novel seems to inhere in a melodramatic plot of triangulation and patriarchal sex right, for not only does the contest between Lord Newhaven and his wife's lover suggest the primacy of the story of male ascendancy over against women's sexual self-determination, but the narrative is further supported by the ideological conflict between a rising young author, Hester Gresley, and her narrow-minded, authoritarian brother. But if these parallel plots mark out the proprietary boundaries of authority that men struggle with and against-whether in terms of sexual knowledge or religious knowledge-in the end, the melodrama of Red Pottage is simply a palimpsest, record of words and letters whose sensational shapes and swirls obscure an older script beneath. This older script is the story of an emotional, even poetic, covenant between Hester and her friend Rachel, a misalliance that dispossesses the authoritative Romantic hero of his chief antagonist -- and thus of his logic for sexual victory-without turning sexual hierarchy on its head. Interestingly, we find traces of this older story in Christina Rossetti's 'Goblin
Market' (1862), as we read Lizzie's saving relation to her sister not as an emasculating and individualistic response to the seductions of the goblins but as an emancipatory vision of collective identification between women. Likewise, the idea that gender distinction might vanish or at least prove irrelevant, that sexchange would effect not a shift in power but a shift in social dispensation (from a competitive to a cooperative principle), is clearly at the core of the New
Woman's most radical acts of 'passing,' each of which transforms the isolated and random acts of the femme fatale into a culturally durable narrative for feminism.
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
Irish dramatist (George Bernard Shaw (1856-
1950))2, literary critic, a socialist spokesman, and a leading figure in the 20th century theater. Shaw was a freethinker, a supporter of women's rights, advocate of equality of income. He supported abolition of private property, radical change in the voting system, campaigned for the simplification of spelling, and the reform of the English alphabet. In 1925 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Shaw accepted the honour but refused the money.
Play 1: Major Barbara, Character1: Barbara Undershaft
Major Barbara (Major Barbara, Characters,
Major Barbara) 3 - the young, idealistic daughter of Lady
Britomart and Andrew Undershaft and the fiancee of Adolphous Cusins. At the first of the play, she is a committed member of the Salvation Army, believing in their philosophies and working in their shelter in West Ham,
London. Holding the rank of Major, she handles all kinds of people with a great deal of patience, firmness, and sincerity. At the end of the play, she becomes disillusioned over the hypocrisy of the Salvation Army and resigns. After she marries Cusins, she plans to become a member of the ideal town created by her father's munitions factory, where she will continue her work of 'saving souls' on people who are not poor and starving.
Major Barbara (Overall Analyses, Characters,
Major Barbara) 4 is the central character for whom the play is named and the symbol and voice of idealism. She is the daughter of Lady Britomart and her estranged husband,
Andrew Undershaft, a rich industrialist and owner of a munitions factory. In the beginning of the play, Barbara has had little contact with her father and totally disapproves of the source of his wealth. Young and idealistic, Barbara works with the Salvation Army, whose causes she totally supports. She believes her purpose in life is to save the souls of the poverty-stricken individuals who come to the Salvation Army shelter where she is employed. Both kind and patient, she is a hard worker and has risen to the rank of Major. Barbara is engaged to Cusins, another employee of the Salvation Army, and they plan to marry soon.
Barbara is shocked when Mrs. Bains (Overall
Analyses, Characters, Major Barbara) 4, the commissioner of the shelter where she works in West Ham, accepts donations from a liquor baron and from her own father, a munitions manufacturer; her ideals about the Salvation Army are shattered by the reality of its funding by rich industrialists who have questionable means of earning money. Barbara is so disillusioned that she decides to permanently leave the Salvation Army; however, when she visits her father's factory, she realizes that she can continue her work of saving souls among the workers in the factory; her mission will be easier since she will not have to bribe' them with bread and milk, as she used to at the shelter in West Ham.
Throughout the play (Overall Analyses,
Characters, Major Barbara) 4, Barbara comes across as a sincere, strong, and committed Christian who truly believes her mission in life is to save souls. She goes about her work at the Salvation Army with a missionary zeal that is both inspiring and moving. When her father, Mr. Undershaft, observes her at work, he knows that she is the only one of his children that would be capable of someday running his factory. He, however, is disturbed by her misplaced idealism, for he believes that people in poverty cannot truly be saved; they are too concerned about providing food and clothing for themselves to think about higher spiritual things. He makes Barbara realize that she needs to temper her idealism with reality. In the end, he convinces her that she will have much greater success saving souls at his factory than at the Salvation Army.
By depicting Barbara's conflict between idealism and realism (Overall Analyses, Characters, Major
Barbara) 4, Shaw seems to be addressing many young people like her, who are striving to reform their society in idealistic ways. He clearly shows that idealism, without any basis on reality, cannot provide a solution to the problems of society. The challenge is to come to terms with the real world, like Undershaft, and find real solutions that can work, like Major Barbara has done in the play.
Play 2: Mrs. Warren's Profession, Character 2: Vivie Warren
Vivie Warren is a stern, ambitious young Cambridge graduate who discovers her…[continue]
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