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

Birch, Catherine Elizabeth (2011). Evolutionary feminism in late-victorian women’s poetry: Mathilde Blind, Constance Naden and May Kendall. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.


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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: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of English, Drama and American & Canadian Studies, Department of English Literature
Funders: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0441 Literary History
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
URI: http://etheses.bham.ac.uk/id/eprint/3024


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