In the English literary period fin de siecle, what changes were introduced to novels and other types of literature in this period, especially with respect to plot, themes, or characters,...

In the English literary period fin de siecle, what changes were introduced to novels and other types of literature in this period, especially with respect to plot, themes, or characters, particularly with respect to women?

What specific examples of these changes can be seen in the following short stories:

"Virgin Soil" by George Egerton

"The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins

"A Daughter of the Lodge" by George Gissing

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The term fin de siecle is a French term that translates to "end of the century" ("Fin de siecle"). It refers to both the closing and beginning of an era. While the 19th century was looked at as a time of deterioration, it was also looked towards with "hope for a new beginning" ("Fin de siecle"). Fin de siecle literature came after Victorian literature and just before Modernism and particularly emphasizes cultural changes concerning morality, "sophistication, escapism, extreme aestheticism, world-weariness, and fashionable despair" (Encyclopedia Britannica, "Fin de siecle"). Some of the changes we can see in fin de siecle literature concern changes in "gender relations"; in particular, the literature incorporates themes in which the society moved away from "patriarchal male supremacy and female dependence" (Dr. Andrzej Diniejko, "The New Woman Fiction"). As we are limited in space, below are a few ideas to help get you started.

Charlotte Perkins' short story "The Yellow Wallpaper" particularly portrays a term coined by public speaker Sarah Grand, the "New Woman" ("The New Woman Fiction"). The "New Woman" in fin de siecle literature moved away from the Victorian stereotypes; "she was intelligent, educated, emancipated, independent and self-supporting ("The New Woman Fiction"). New women novels often portrayed marriage as a trap in which women were oppressed and even abused. While the heroine in "The Yellow Wallpaper" isn't portrayed as self-supporting, we certainly do see her being portrayed as intelligent and educated and eventually achieving, in a sense, emancipation and independence. The short story "The Yellow Wallpaper" also very clearly portrays marriage as an oppressive trap.

We know the heroine is both intelligent and educated based on her writing. The reader is actually reading what she has written in her diary as an account of the story, and what she has written is actually very clearly articulated. Plus, there are certainly clues in the text that point to the idea that the heroine may be a writer by profession. One clue is that her husband has forbidden her to write; he has also forbidden her to work until she is well. If she is forbidden to both write and work, then for her, writing and working may be one and the same thing, making her possibly a writer. Ironically, it is when she is driven mad by her husband's oppression that she actually gains both emancipation and liberation. She begs her husband to allow her to stay in one of the prettier rooms downstairs, but he insists that they take the large upstairs nursery since it had plenty of windows and would give her much needed air. However, she found the ugly wallpaper very emotionally disturbing to the point that it drove her insane. She even began envisioning a woman trapped behind the pattern and saw her escape and sneak about the grounds. Soon, she began associating herself with the trapped woman and felt it was her destiny to free the woman by tearing down the paper. She even manages to lock herself in the room on the last day and tear off strips of it thereby, as she sees it, liberating herself. Associating herself with the trapped woman is a way of conveying marriage as an oppressive trap, and her madness can be seen as a result of emotional abusiveness. However, by locking herself in the room, she does, in a sense, manage to liberate herself, as we can see by the final lines of the story:

"I've got out at last ... in spite of you and Jane. And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back!" Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!

In creeping, she is imitating the vision of the woman she has seen sneaking around the grounds, showing us that, like the woman she envisioned, she too has crept away from her prison and found her liberation.

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