Breaking the Ties That Bind

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In her introduction, editor Maureen Honey discusses how the image of women presented in fiction began to change in the early twentieth century. Victorianism had idealized and even eroticized female powerlessness and helplessness; contemporary romances similarly eroticized male dominance even when they covertly express hostility toward it. Honey states that the distinguishing feature of the “new woman” romance is that the heroine’s hostility to male dominance is overt, grounded in a desire for self-fulfillment.

The editor selected the fifteen stories in this volume from a sample of more than seven hundred stories from popular magazines of the era. The stories, all but one of which are by women, present various examples of “new woman” heroines. Honey does not claim great literary merit for the stories chosen; rather, they are representative of the magazine fiction of the time, much of which was formulaic and of low quality. The brief biographies of the writers appear at the end of the volume indicate that several had minor careers, while others, such as Jessie Fauset and Booth Tarkington, were quite well known.

The stories as a whole present the struggle of early twentieth century women to break out of a mold of subservience to men and to find self-fulfillment. Most of the stories involve a heroine’s conflicted relationship with a man. Tarkington’s is the only story written from a male perspective. His protagonist wishes that his...

(The entire section is 452 words.)