In George Bernard Shaw's Candida, the title character exhibits many of the traits of a "new woman," but she nevertheless embodies a woman firmly in step with Victorian traditions and values of late nineteenth-century England. Candida dutifully stays at home, attends to the needs of her husband, the Reverend James Mavor Morell (a Christian Socialist clergyman of the Church of England, and a "great baby," as Shaw describes him), performs obligatory household duties, and takes care of the children.
Shaw describes her on her first entrance in the play:
Candida has just come in, and is looking at them with an amused maternal indulgence which is her characteristic expression. She is a woman of 33, well built, well nourished, likely, one guesses, to become matronly later on, but now quite at her best, with the double charm of youth and motherhood. Her ways are those of a woman who has found that she can always manage people by engaging their affection, and who does so frankly and instinctively without the smallest scruple.
There's no indication that Candida is anything but the picture of a proper Victorian woman.
So far, she is like any other pretty woman who is just clever enough to make the most of her sexual attractions for trivially selfish ends; but Candida's serene brow, courageous eyes, and well set mouth and chin signify largeness of mind and dignity of character to ennoble her cunning in the affections.
"So far," Shaw writes, telling us that things aren't going to stay like this forever, or even for very long at all. Then he gives us some insight into Candida's personality and her future character development.
Through the course of the play, Candida demonstrates increasingly independent and self-assured thought and behavior, criticizes her husband, and actively takes control of the direction of her own life.
At the same time that she's exercising these "new woman" attributes, Candida personifies Victorian attitudes towards women and even seems to take pride in caring for the men around her.
At one point in the play, the stage directions call for Candida to wear "housekeeping attire" while she goes about her household duties in front of her husband and eighteen-year-old poet (and Candida's lover) Eugene Marchbanks, and shortly thereafter she takes on the role of Eugene's mother—buttoning his collar, tying his neckerchief in a bow, and arranging his hair—as if he were a schoolboy going off to the first day of school.
Near the end of the play, Candida's husband and Marchbanks confront her, and they demand that she choose between them. At first, Candida is taken aback. Shaw gives the stage direction, "(slowly recoiling a step, her heart hardened by his rhetoric in spite of the sincere feeling behind it)."
CANDIDA: Oh! I am to choose, am I? I suppose it is quite settled that I must belong to one or the other.
MORELL (firmly). Quite. You must choose definitely.
MARCHBANKS (anxiously). Morell: you don't understand. She means that she belongs to herself.
CANDIDA (turning on him). I mean that and a good deal more, Master Eugene, as you will both find out presently.
Ultimately, Candida makes her choice.
CANDIDA: I give myself to the weaker of the two.
Marchbanks understands her choice immediately, but Morrell doesn't realize that Candida chose him.
Candida chooses to keep one foot in each world. She chooses to continue to live in a Victorian-minded world, and to take care of her "great baby"—who obviously needs her more that Marchbanks does—but at the same time, she has clearly established the "new woman" parameters of her relationship with her husband.