“Waking Dreams”: Networked Feminists and Idealist Feminism in Late-Nineteenth Century London

  • Author / Creator
    Smith Elford, Jana R
  • This dissertation explores how the networked feminists of the late-nineteenth century gave rise to a particular type of feminism that I call “idealist feminism.” Beginning in the 1870s, largely after undertaking study at the first institutions of higher education in the world to admit women, feminist writers and thinkers moved to the distinctive cosmopolitan metropolis of London in increasing numbers. Here they became imbricated in overlapping networks of organizational, geographic, and intellectual affiliations. Scholars have typically studied these feminist writers and thinkers separately as socialists, animal-rights activists, suffragists, or new woman writers. Yet, despite their various affiliations, these women are connected by their shared, optimistic vision for a utopian future, which they believed was necessary to alter politics, education, society, and the individual, and bring about women’s emancipation.

    Each chapter examines how these feminists, in their lives and in their writings, worked to draw attention to this feminist ideal. Through their public activism, their involvement in predominantly masculine-dominated clubs and organizations like the Fabian Society and the Men and Women’s Club, their writing in mainstream and alternative periodical publications, and by penning fictional texts, these women were drawn in conversation both with each other and with the broader culture of the late- Victorian period. Through their involvement in this culture, they discovered themselves as activists and writers and in turn developed and began to advocate a feminism particular to the Victorian fin de siècle era. My three case studies—on the overlapping networks in which Emma Brooke, Mona Caird, and Henrietta Müller mobilized and the dream- inflected language of the writing they produced—thus work to illustrate the ideologically complex but cohesive nature of the late-Victorian feminist movement, which is not easily organized into conventional political categories, but which nevertheless produced a recognizable variety of feminism. Understanding the nature of this feminism has the potential to alter our understanding of women’s agency and access to political power and the ways we conceive of women’s political influence in the period.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2018
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
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