Shams and shadows: meta-fiction and the upper class woman writer

Oulton, C. (2016) Shams and shadows: meta-fiction and the upper class woman writer. In: Reassessing Women Writers of the 1880s and 1890s, 25th-26th July, 2016, CCCU.

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A number of novels by upper class women in the 1890s register anxiety about the identity of the woman writer, with the ambivalent status of popular fiction being explored through such radically different characters as the eponymous writer of Rhoda Brougthon’s A Beginner (1894) and the talented Hester of Mary Cholmondeley’s Red Pottage (1899). As Cholmondeley’s own career makes clear, disapproval was as likely to derive from class antagonism as from concerns about gender boundaries, with county families expressing disbelief that she would want to join the ranks of ‘little scribblers’. Female author characters encounter suspicion and even outright hostility from other characters and occasionally from their own creators, who use meta-fiction both to critique women’s writing and to construct their own literary identities.

Fin de siècle texts by upper class women necessarily include subtle negotiations of gender and class identity, often through the medium of fictional texts that are ultimately disavowed or destroyed. Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler’s 1898 Concerning Isabel Carnaby is not unusual in its presentation of an anonymously authored novel that the writer later regrets having written. In this case it is a male writer whose career is severely compromised following the publication of a ‘clever’ but vulgar novel under a pseudonym, reminding readers of New Woman literature that the circulation of a text can be as disastrous as its loss. Fowler’s novel raises a number of questions about the implications of the domestic / public divide, and what it means to be associated with a particular school of fiction, not least whether anonymity signals inferior work rather than the reserve of the ‘modest authoress’. This question becomes particularly pressing when it transpires that the writer of the fictional work is in fact the faithless fiancée, rather than the promising author whose reputation has been sullied.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English Literature > PR0111 Women authors
P Language and Literature > PR English Literature > PR0161 By period
Divisions: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Humanities > International Centre for Victorian Women Writers (ICWW)
Depositing User: Prof Carolyn W. de la L. Oulton
Date Deposited: 09 Jun 2016 08:55
Last Modified: 09 Jun 2016 08:55

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Last edited: 29/06/2016 12:23:00