New women, new technologies : the interrelation between gender and technology at the Victorian fin de siècle
Wanggren, Lena Elisabet
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This thesis treats the interrelation between gender and technology at the Victorian fin de siècle, focusing on the figure of the New Woman. It aims to offer a reexamination of this figure of early feminism in relation to the technologies and techniques of the time, suggesting the simultaneously abstract and material concept of technology as a way to more fully understand the ‘semi-fictionality’ of the New Woman; her emergence as both a discursive figure in literature and as a set of social practices. Major authors include Grant Allen, Tom Gallon, and H. G. Wells, examined in the larger context of late-Victorian and fin de siècle popular and New Woman fiction. Chapter 1 outlines the theoretical and methodological premises of the thesis. Locating a specific problematic in the ‘semi-fictionality’ of the New Woman, it draws upon wider discussions within gender and feminist theory to consider this central concern in New Woman criticism. Criticising gynocritical assumptions, the chapter offers a way of reading New Woman literature without relying on the gender of the author – taking Grant Allen’s (in)famous New Woman novel The Woman Who Did as a case in point. It concludes by suggesting technology as a way of examining the figure of the New Woman in its historiospecific and material context. Chapter 2 establishes the typewriter as a case in point for examining the interrelation between gender and technology at the fin de siècle. Through reading Grant Allen’s The Type-Writer Girl and Tom Gallon’s The Girl Behind the Keys, it examines the semantic ambiguity of the term ‘typewriter’ to demonstrate the sexual ambiguity of the New Woman and also the mutual interaction between individual agency and technology. Chapter 3 examines the technology most associated with the New Woman: the safety bicycle. Through reading H. G. Wells’s The Wheels of Chance and Grant Allen’s Miss Cayley’s Adventures, it considers how the social practice of bicycling comes to be associated with concepts of female freedom, problematising the notion of the bicycle as a technology of democratisation. Chapter 4 discusses the figure of the New Woman nurse as a fin de siècle figuration of the Nightingale New Style nurse. Examining the emergence of the clinical hospital, it places the New Woman nurse in a context of medical modernity. Reading Grant Allen’s Hilda Wade as an intervention in a debate on hospital hierarchies, it explores the institutional technology of the hospital in the formation of notions of gender.