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Evolutionary feminism in late-victorian women’s poetry: Mathilde Blind, Constance Naden and May Kendall

Birch, Catherine Elizabeth (2011)
Ph.D. thesis, University of Birmingham.

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In recent years, feminist critics have moved from focusing on the misogynistic aspects of late-Victorian evolutionary science to recognising that many women found liberating possibilities within this science. However, most studies of evolution and gender in New Woman writing have concentrated on serious novels. This thesis is the first full-length study of representations of evolution in women’s poetry. Focusing predominantly on the work of Mathilde Blind, Constance Naden and May Kendall, I examine how the depiction of evolution in women’s poetry of the 1880s and 1890s, particularly comic poetry, responds to the conclusions of professional scientists about the application of evolutionary theory to human society. By reading the poetry in the context of contemporary scientific works, in books and periodicals, I demonstrate that, unlike many social Darwinists, who used evolutionary theory to reinforce the status quo, these poets found aspects within Darwin’s work that could be used to disrupt assumptions about natural femininity and to argue for the necessity of social change. The themes examined in this thesis include change, the blurring of boundaries and undermining of hierarchies, the association of white women with people of other races in scientific discourse, and Darwin’s representation of women’s sexual and reproductive role.

Type of Work:Ph.D. thesis.
Supervisor(s):Thain, Marion
School/Faculty:Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
Department:Department of English
Subjects:PN Literature (General)
PN0441 Literary History
PR English literature
Institution:University of Birmingham
ID Code:3024
This unpublished thesis/dissertation is copyright of the author and/or third parties. The intellectual property rights of the author or third parties in respect of this work are as defined by The Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 or as modified by any successor legislation. Any use made of information contained in this thesis/dissertation must be in accordance with that legislation and must be properly acknowledged. Further distribution or reproduction in any format is prohibited without the permission of the copyright holder.
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