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Blog

07Nov2018

WHAT THE WOMEN WROTE

WHAT THE WOMEN WROTE

In another post, I wrote about the New Liberal men’s views of women’s suffrage and the other questions that women had raised, going ‘beyond the vote’, concerning issues such as marriage, maternity and women’s careers. It was called ‘What the men wrote and what they did not’. Both posts are part of my research project The Personal and the Political .

Part of the project is the recovery of what certain women wrote on the same questions. In particular, I focus on the writings of women close to the New Liberal men. One or two figures are already known, but most are not. To give some examples: Margaret Nevinson (wife of Henry Nevinson) wrote short stories for the suffrage press as well as a play. Henry Nevinson’s second wife, Evelyn Sharp edited the W.S.P.U. newspaper Votes for Women and was also a writer of short stories for children and adults. Brailsford’s wife, Jane Malloch, wrote letters to the press and a short story for Ford Madox Ford’s English Review. Graham Wallas’s wife Ada Wallas wrote short stories for magazines including The Yellow Book, as well as women’s history and an autobiography. Lucy Masterman wrote poetry. Florence Hobson wrote and published short stories. As well as the economic and social history she wrote with her husband John, Barbara Hammond wrote an unpublished novel.

The women’s writing can be contrasted with that of the men. The most obvious point is that the men wrote articles in The Nation and the women did not. The women were not part of what Hobhouse termed the ‘apostolic succession’ of Liberal men whose task it was to reinterpret liberalism in each generation.

The women’s writings also focused on precisely that which men’s treatises had neglected or treated superficially: the problems of unbalanced educational opportunities, the ‘destiny’ of marriage, and the expectations that educated women would spend much of their lives attending primarily to domesticity and child-rearing rather than pursuing their own careers. As such, they form a sort of parallel commentary on what the new freedoms were experienced by men and by women. The women’s ‘minor’ literary careers – invariably shortened and unfulfilled when compared to those of the men – therefore form another unnoticed shadow of the New Liberal men’s public lives.

It is also telling that the forms the women chose – short stories, novels, autobiography, drama – were also just those in which the personal is explored, or in which personal and political material can be treated alongside each other. In this way too, they can be contrasted with the men’s choice of form – social scientific treatise and educative journalism.

IMAGE CREDIT: THE GATES OF TRINITY COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE.