What are the differences between New Woman in modernism and preceding Victorian woman?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The New Woman of modernism followed the Victorian woman. Incidentally, Henrik Ibsen demonstrates both in his plays. The New Woman is captured in Hedda Gabler and the Victorian woman is captured A Doll's House. The Victorian woman was still the angel of the house and hearth, a comfort and benefit to men, with a higher register of spirituality and sensitive than men. This may sound good but what might be a good trait was turned and used to underscore women's irrationality; woman seemed antithetical to logical.

The New Woman emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (some simplify by saying 20th century alone, pinpointing 1900, though transitions are never that abrupt). The New Woman is liberated and emancipated from her Victorian role, which was a more rigid role than formerly in history. For example, during the feudal period, women of higher social classes expected to manage the estates and defend the castle against attack while the knights and Lords were at war, while peasant women expected to operate cottage industries or go out to work for the upper classes.

The problem with the New Woman's emancipation was that there was now nothing for the New Woman to occupy herself in doing, this eventually led into the new emergence of the post-World War II pampered and idle suburbanite and the newly reinvented and reemphasized social value of male employment dominance backed by the woman at home with the apron and Frigidaire. Other traits of the New Woman were noticeable in the realm of the arts. There was a schism of point of view, some New Women wanted the classical forms of beauty in arts, including literature and some wanted the grim, bloody, fragmented realism of the new era. We can readily see which side of the schism won. In addition, the New Woman battled with identifying her social self and her essential self; rebellion against social restrictions; personally restrictive upbringing leading to class victimization.