Barbara Taylor (essay date 1983)

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SOURCE: “Feminist Socialists: Some Portraits,” in Eve and the New Jerusalem: Socialism and Feminism in the Nineteenth Century, Harvard University Press, 1993, pp. 57-82.

[In the following essay, first published in 1983, Taylor surveys the principal nineteenth-century feminist proponents of Robert Owen's socialist thought.]

Until the late 1820s,...

(The entire section contains 28733 words.)

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SOURCE: “Feminist Socialists: Some Portraits,” in Eve and the New Jerusalem: Socialism and Feminism in the Nineteenth Century, Harvard University Press, 1993, pp. 57-82.

[In the following essay, first published in 1983, Taylor surveys the principal nineteenth-century feminist proponents of Robert Owen's socialist thought.]

Until the late 1820s, adherence to Owenite views was almost entirely confined to a small number of radical intellectuals. But in the 1830s and 1840s support for the New Science of Society mushroomed. ‘Little knots of Socialists appeared in almost every part of the country,’ one journalist on The Whitehaven Herald observed in 1842, describing how even in his own small city the Owenite presence had swelled from two or three individuals to a band of several hundred, ‘of whom a considerable proportion were females …’1 Women appear to have taken an active part in this development right across the country. In 1833 a visiting Saint Simonian reported seeing large numbers of women at all Owenite meetings, including several who were ‘noted for their writings and lectures’. ‘I have seldom seen faces so animated as theirs,’ he wrote admiringly, ‘They felt their equality with men …’2 Seven years later, in 1840, hostile observers were commenting on the ‘crowds’ of women who regularly attended Owenite lectures and meetings around the country.3 Similar reports persisted until the collapse of the movement in 1845.

The majority of these women, like the men in the Owenite movement, came from the upper working class, with a substantial minority from the lower middle class and a tiny number from wealthy backgrounds.4 The women who joined Queenwood, a Hampshire Owenite community, were mostly the wives and daughters of skilled factory operatives, who before entering the community had worked as dressmakers, straw-bonnet-makers, weavers and domestic servants. One was the wife of a former civil servant (who had been sacked for his Socialist beliefs); another was a teacher.5 Other communities, such as the little Ham Common Concordium, boasted a few wealthy ladies among their residents;6 the women at the Ralahine community, on the other hand, were mostly poor peasants.7 The London and Brighton Co-operative Societies had one or two lady aristocrats at their meetings in the late 1820s; by the early 1830s Owen's Charlotte Street Institution in London was sponsoring large meetings of working women, who formed co-operative associations and trade unions.8 Manchester Socialist branch reported many female domestic servants in its ranks in the early 1840s,9 while the Leicester group noted the presence of many women schoolteachers at its public meetings over the same period.10

What proportion of these women were feminists it is impossible to judge. Hundreds of women attended Owenite lectures on women's rights, and scores wrote to the Owenite press on women's issues, although usually under pen-names to ensure anonymity. A broad commitment to the principle of sexual equality was expected of every dedicated Owenite, male or female; but the number willing to publicly promote that principle, particularly the number of women publicists, was always small: less than a dozen women became well-known Socialist feminist propagandists, supplemented by a slightly larger number who delivered occasional lectures on the subject. Even at the height of Owenism's strength, its self-proclaimed feminists were never more than a minority—albeit a voluble, influential minority—of its female membership.

Nor was this feminist contingent representative, in class terms, of the wider movement to which it belonged. Some Owenite feminists were from working-class backgrounds, and some few from upper bourgeois or even landowning families, but the majority seem to have come from that ambiguous region inhabited by respectable ladies of smallish means—a region on the border between the lower middle class and the upper working class where social distinctions between genteel and plebeian often blurred. This generalization, it must be stressed however, is based on evidence which is fragmentary and impressionistic. Many Owenite feminists appear only as signatures at the bottom of angry letters, or as voices in meetings, or in the occasional report from the secretary of a local Owenite society. Even some of the leading publicists remain shadowy figures, with their personal lives largely hidden from us. The series of biographical sketches which follow are, therefore, simply that: sketches whose outlines are often smudgy and obscure. Yet when these partial portraits are scrutinized together, there begins to emerge a common profile whose most marked feature, without a doubt, is its deviance from the feminine norm. Owenite feminists, whatever their social origin, tended to be, in George Gissing's phrase, ‘odd women’, who in their lives, as well as in their ideas, sharply transgressed social convention.11 At a time when ‘women's place’ in society was becoming increasingly circumscribed, these were women who either would not or could not dwell within its narrowing boundaries: a factor which was important in determining the nature and strength of their feminist commitment.

The first women to publicly espouse Owenite feminist ideals were Anna Wheeler and Frances (Fanny) Wright. Both were women from wealthy backgrounds, with prestigious male connections—factors which served to ensure that their careers, unlike most of their Owenite sisters, were recorded in some detail.


She was born Anna Doyle, the daughter of a radical Protestant Archbishop in Limerick, and god-daughter to the leading Irish nationalist, Henry Gratton.12 No doubt this progressive background contributed to Anna's later political development, but its influence wasn’t obvious in her early years, when as the belle of the local squirearchy she was more interested in flirting with locals lads than in discussing social reform. At fifteen, despite parental disapproval, she married a boy from a nearby estate, Francis Massey Wheeler. He turned out to be a fool who cared only for fox-hunting and heavy drinking, and life in the Wheelers' Ballywhire home soon deteriorated into miserable scenes of wrangling resentment, with Anna constantly pregnant or nursing (she had six children, of whom two survived) and Francis perpetually drunk. Furious with her husband, and fed up with dreary domesticity, Anna gradually retreated into an intensive programme of self-education: between the births and deaths of her children she spent day after day, her daughter Rosina later recalled, ‘stretched out on the sofa, deep in the perusal of some French or German philosophical work that had reached her via London’.13 Reading away, while Francis shambled about in a stupor and the farm gradually crumbled about them, she became ‘imbued with the fallacies of the French Revolution’ and, eventually, with the ‘corresponding poisons’ (Rosina's description again) of feminism.14 One bundle of books from London contained the Vindication. One imagines Anna's feelings as, pregnant for perhaps the fifth or sixth time by her loutish spouse, she opened Wollstonecraft's book … Easy too to imagine how she must have identified with Wollstonecraft's unhappy sexual life, for her own miserable marriage gave her later feminist propaganda a bitter edge very similar to that of the Vindication. One 1829 lecture began, ‘Having learned only to serve and suffer, in my capacity as slave and woman …’15

But after twelve years of suffering and servicing her husband Anna had had enough, and in 1812 she gathered up her daughters and fled—first to the home of her uncle, the Governor of Guernsey, and eventually to France, where she became involved with the Saint Simonians. The next twenty years were spent moving between radical groupings in England, France and Ireland, providing an important point of contact between the emergent socialist movements in these countries. In France, she was closely associated with the Saint-Simonian feminists (whose writings she translated for the Owenite press) and also with Charles Fourier and Flora Tristan; in England, Owen and William Thompson soon became close friends and colleagues. By the late 1820s she was writing for Owenite newspapers and speaking on radical platforms, ‘and always on one subject,’ a friend recalled, ‘the present condition of women and their rights as members of society and equals with men’.16 In 1833 as the Owenites became drawn into a national trades union mobilization, she sat on the executive of the Grand Moral Union of the Productive Classes, Owen's first attempt to construct a ‘general union of all trades’.17 But by then she was feeling tired and unwell, complaining of depression, neuralgia, and ‘a cruel nervous malady which deprives me of the free use of both arms …’18 And although she was still alive to celebrate the 1848 revolutions (‘the rights of women are constantly put forth in all the clubs,’ a friend wrote from the barricades, ‘could you not come over?’19) her active political life had ended almost fifteen years earlier.

As a feminist from an upper-class background, Anna was poised between the reform-minded elite of polite society, in which she had been raised, and the far less conventional Owenite intelligentsia which developed in the 1820s and 1830s. In London, like Wollstonecraft three decades earlier, she moved in radical circles which encompassed not only leading Socialists but also the followers of Bentham (whom she ‘adored as a philosopher and loved … as a friend’20), and the many progressive literati whom she met through her son-in-law, the novelist Bulwer Lytton. These included the young Benjamin Disraeli who described her, however, as ‘not so pleasant, something between Jeremy Bentham and Meg Merrilies, very clever, but awfully revolutionary’.21 His disapproval is revealing, for if being ‘awfully revolutionary’ was de rigueur at the dinner parties Mary Wollstonecraft had once attended, it was certainly no longer so by the 1820s, when Anna's militant feminism and her support for Owenite ideas (‘system-mongering’, as her son-in-law dubbed it22) placed her well to the left of her liberal associates. At times she felt this distance intensely. ‘Before a woman inclined to do good in any way, is permitted to do so in this country, there must be a reform indeed which our Radicals do not contemplate,’ she wrote bitterly in 1832, shortly after her Benthamite associates had helped push through Parliament a Reform Bill which, in her words, ‘had not a word about justice to women’ in it, and in fact explicitly excluded women from the expanded franchise (as well as nearly all working men).23 The protest of the Appeal had been ignored. In an angry, cynical letter written to a friend at the time, she dismissed any further hopes of feminist reforms from these men who, even if they acquired greater political power, could be expected only to introduce expanded educational facilities for women ‘since they acknowledge that Women would make better Servants if they were better instructed …’

But as to a beneficial change in the social condition of Women, that must depend on their will and energy … or it involves so complete a change in all human and social arrangements, as will compel men in their own interests to relinquish their shameless exploitation of half the human race …24

That tone of angry disillusionment must at least partly explain why feminists from upper- or middle-class backgrounds could be drawn towards Owenism. This is not to suggest that sexual egalitarians were to be found only in the Owenite ranks. Throughout the 1820s and 1830s the South Place Chapel in London (where Anna occasionally lectured) was the meeting place for a group of radical Unitarians including such militant women's rights advocates as Harriet Taylor, John Stuart Mill and W. J. Fox. Fox's journal, The Monthly Repository, carried many articles on women's position, and his own views on marriage were so advanced that they finally got him into serious difficulties with the Unitarian leadership.25 Mary Leman Grimstone, Harriet Martineau, and Anna Jameson were all feminists of a radical-liberal hue whose writings were reprinted in the Owenite press (although occasionally with an editorial comment reminding readers that only communalized property and collectivized family life could ensure female equality).26 But the number of non-Socialist radicals prepared to take up women's cause in the first half of the century was few; nor is it surprising to discover that the most militant among them—Fox, Mill, Taylor, Grimstone—all took a sympathetic interest in Owenism and Owenite feminism.27

Outside radical ranks even this limited support for feminist ideals was absent, smothered under a blanket of prejudice and anxiety which effectively suffocated any expression of women's independent aspirations. Attempting to pierce this fog of fearful conservatism, particularly among women themselves, was no doubt a daunting and exhausting task: Anna certainly seems to have found it so. On several occasions she expressed her dismay at the apparent refusal of most women around her to confront, or even to acknowledge, their oppression. ‘In speaking of the degraded position of my sex, I am … but too well aware, that my remarks … will draw upon me the hate of most men, together with that of the greater portion of the very sex, whose rights… I attempt to advocate,’ she told one audience in 1830,28 while in a later letter she expressed pessimism as to whether ‘the Emancipation of Women’ would ever be achieved since ‘women … are passive and indifferent to the suffering of their species’:

The love of rational liberty forms no part of the nature of this willingly degraded sex, and their very propensity for slavery is indeed a justification of the dogma that they originated the fall of man. Women are capable of great personal courage … but it is chiefly exhibited in the indurance (sic) of oppression … There is something very depressing in contemplating this true, but dark side of the human picture.29

This gloomy assessment was made at a time when Anna was ill and unhappy. But the sense of estrangement from average womanhood which it expressed reappeared elsewhere—not only in her own writings but in those of other Owenite feminists as well. Feminists clearly were a peculiar breed—with their unorthodox notions, their public political roles, their unconventional private lives—and this produced a sense of personal freakishness (Fanny Wright complained that respectable ladies made her feel like ‘a beast from the south seas’) which could be intensely isolating. In particular, such women tended to be set apart by their fierce intellectualism. At a time when the most formal schooling any woman, even a wealthy one, could generally expect to receive was a smattering of general knowledge plus training in ‘accomplishments’ (dancing, drawing, enough French to flirt in), genuine education was almost invariably self-acquired.30 ‘“Knowledge is power,” say men,’ as Anna told one audience, hence, ‘“to keep women our slaves, we must keep them ignorant”…’31 Her own vigorous struggle to escape this mental enslavement, buried in books and nappies in Ballywhire, exemplified a common pattern of feminist development. For if docile ignorance was a mark of conventional femininity, so the battle for self-enlightenment was a true mark of a female dissident—and Owenism contained many such fervent autodidacts in its feminist ranks.

The lecturer who succeeded Anna as the movement's leading feminist publicist, for example, was a Bristol woman named Emma Martin who somewhere in the middle of raising a family, running a school, and working for the Baptist church (in her pre-Owenite days), had found time to teach herself several languages (including Hebrew and Italian, which she translated), basic medicine and physiology, and enough theology to put many of her later clerical opponents to shame.32 Two other Owenite feminists, Margaret Chappellsmith and Eliza Macauley, were fascinated by economic theory. Margaret's lectures on currency reform and ‘the history of British financial institutions’ (copiously illustrated with charts and graphs) were among the most popular offered by the Owenites in the 1840s; Eliza had offered instruction on similar themes to London audiences a decade earlier. Other feminists wrote to the Owenite press of their explorations in mathematics, natural science, and ‘the most enlightened philosophy’ of the day, including the works of Godwin, Wollstonecraft, Shelley (the feminists' favourite poet) and, of course, Owen himself. ‘There are, I believe, many women who, like me, deplore the irrational education they are compelled to receive,’ as one of these women (who signed herself ‘A Friend to Truth’) wrote to an Owenite newspaper in 1839:

and who, when they have got rid of their school-mistress, and can withdraw from a round of insipid and frivolous pursuits, strenuously cultivate their own minds, and dare to think for themselves …

She herself had had access ‘to the universities modern libraries’ where in struggling through ‘mazes of error and prejudice’ she had eventually found her way to ‘the writings of the benevolent Owen’. ‘Wearied with the clashing of opinions, overwhelmed with the view of the wretchedness of the worthy and unfortunate, stung with indignation at the heartless and systematic cruelty of some … men’ she had turned ‘with rapture and admiration’ to the ‘larger field of mental vision’ provided by the New Science of Society: ‘Mr Owen's hand tears down the veil, his finger points to the origin of the evil, and his comprehensive and noble mind discovers the remedy …’33

Even Frances Wright, whose own writings were nearly as popular as Owen's, was almost entirely self-taught. As a girl she buried herself in libraries, where she worked her way through everything from Byron (who inspired her to cut her hair in the mode revolutionnaire and write bad poetry) and Epicurus (‘I think I have had done with churches,’ she confided to her diary afterwards—and she had) to Mary Wollstonecraft, Bentham, Hume and countless other enlightened thinkers.34 Fanny was a rather brash young intellectual, who by the age of twenty was already dashing off essays on Epicurean philosophy and three-act plays on political themes. But at a time when a bluestocking like Anna Barbauld could write that ‘young ladies ought only to have such a general tincture of knowledge as to make them agreeable companions to a man of sense’,35 even Fanny occasionally suffered intellectual doubts and anxieties, as one eloquent autobiographical passage from her Popular Lectures indicates:

Myself a scholar, not a teacher, who have purchased such knowledge as I possess, by years of self-directed study, persevering observation, and untiring reflection, I can well conceive, for I myself have experienced, the doubts, difficulties, hopes, fears, and anxieties, which beset the awakening mind in the early stage of enquiry: the indistinct and, often, evanescent perceptions which encourage, and then check, and then again encourage, again to intimidate its advance; the conflicting thoughts and feelings with which it has to struggle ere it can vanquish early impressions, and consent to receive new ones, admit ideas subversive of those which had grown with its growth, and which, associated with tender recollections, cling to the heart as well as the head … All this I can understand, for all this I have … felt …36

Such intellectual growing pains, like the estrangement from ordinary women which such growth usually entailed, were an inevitable part of the price paid by feminists for their hard-won sense of self-determination.

FANNY WRIGHT (1795-1852)

Like Anna Wheeler, Fanny Wright was the product of a well-to-do, enlightened family, and like Anna also, she was gorgeous, precocious, and totally impatient of social convention.37 Her father, a Scottish linen manufacturer of Jacobin sympathies, died when she was only two; her mother a few months later. So Fanny's early years (along with her younger sister Camilla, who spent most of her life in Fanny's wake) were passed in the home of a conventional aunt who clearly found her brilliant, self-dramatizing niece a bit of a handful. Eventually the two girls moved in with another relative, James Milne, one of the leading members of the Scottish school of progressive philosophers. Here, among Milne and his friends, Fanny encountered an intellectual culture whose vigour and iconoclasm made a deep and lasting mark on her thought. The political and personal daredevilry which she also began to display at this time were, however, uniquely her own. Young girls seldom write books—but by her mid-twenties Fanny had written and published several, and made her reputation as a literary lady. Young girls certainly don’t set off on long treks across uncivilized lands—but in 1818 Fanny (with Camilla in tow) travelled across America (recording her impressions for posterity in a book whose strongly democratic views won her applause there and fierce criticism in Britain). And, above all, young girls must not enter into dangerously ambiguous personal attachments. But Fanny, heedless of the horror of her friends and the indignant protests of his family, formed an intense attachment to General Lafayette, the ageing hero of the French Revolution, and eventually proposed to him (he affectionately declined). Travelling with him back to America in 1824, she visited Owen at the New Harmony community which he had established in Indiana. She was immediately converted to Owenism, and within a year had sunk nearly her entire personal fortune into a co-operative community in Tennessee whose residents were mostly black slaves purchased by her to begin life anew on a communalist basis. By the end of the decade the scandals surrounding this experiment, plus a series of anti-church, pro-feminist lectures and involvement in the creation of the New York Workingmen's Party (as well as her habitual dress—a pair of bloomer-like trousers designed originally for the women of New Harmony) had all combined to make Fanny the most notorious feminist radical in America—and an object of great admiration to her fellow Owenites back in Britain. ‘May she find an echo in every instructed woman, and an active ally in every man!’ as Anna Wheeler told one London audience in 1829. ‘Grateful posterity will no doubt associate her name with the illustrious men of the present age, who, having discovered the principles of real social science, gave them to the world under the name of cooperation.’38

In her espousal of this new social science, Fanny, like Anna, never entirely lost touch with her radical-liberal origins. Her favourite doctrine of ‘Free Enquiry’ was really little more than a restatement of Enlightenment rationalism, while her social views clearly echoed the humanist tradition of eighteenth-century progressivism.39 Yet in her communism, in her advocacy of class-based political organization, and—above all—in her attitude towards marriage and family life, Fanny, like all the Owenite feminists, reached past that tradition at crucial points. Sexual nonconformity in particular seems to have been a decisive dividing line, especially when it was not merely a policy position but also a mode of personal practice. ‘I am a woman and without a master: two causes of disgrace in England,’ Anna wrote to a friend in 1832, twenty years after deserting her husband.40 And it was this ‘masterless’ sexual status, with all the disgrace it entailed, which set many Owenite women apart from even the most broad-minded liberals of the day.

When Fanny established her Tennessee community, Nashoba, she provided it with an uncompromisingly libertarian sexual code. ‘The marriage law existing outside the pale of the institution (Nashoba),’ she declared

is of no force within that pale. No woman can forfeit her individual rights or independent existence, and no man assert over her any rights of power whatsoever beyond what he may exercise over her free and voluntary affection. Nor on the other hand, may any woman assert claims to the society or peculiar protection of any individual of the other sex, beyond what mutual inclination dictates and sanctions; while to every individual member of either sex is secured the protection and friendly aid of all … Let us enquire—not if a mother be a wife, or a father a husband, but if parents can supply, to the creatures they have brought into being, all this requisite to make existence a blessing.41

The result was instant notoriety among the community's conservative Tennessee neighbours and a series of turbulent liaisons among the colonists themselves (most of them involving women who, far from giving ‘free and voluntary affection’ appear to have been coerced and intimidated by Nashoban men) which eventually destroyed the morale of all concerned, including even Fanny who, in 1830, dissolved the settlement and shipped its black inhabitants off to a new life in Haiti.42 Her own commitment to free unions was apparently undiminished, however, since she then promptly formed one with another Owenite, Phiquepal D’Arusmont. But finding herself pregnant, she decided to beat a strategic retreat from the high ground of sexual principle and married him—a decision which unfortunately served only to vindicate all her earlier hostility to marriage, since it eventually led to a miserable legal wrangle in which D’Arusmont managed to gain control over her entire property, including all her earnings from lectures and writings. She divorced him in an attempt to regain her financial independence, but died (of an illness following a fall) while the legal machinery was still in motion.43

Emma Martin, whose story is told below, left her husband, a Bristol businessman, to join the Owenites. Like Anna, Emma had become a feminist in the course of an unhappy marriage; like Fanny, she lost all her property to her husband, although in her case this was probably only a small amount.44 As in Mary Wollstonecraft's day, this sort of unorthodox behaviour was greeted with prurient abuse by the Owenites' opponents, particularly since these women proved willing not only to leave marriages, but also to lead sexual lives outside them. Both Emma Martin and Fanny Wright took lovers after they left their husbands (Emma had a child by hers), and it is very possible that Anna's intellectual partnership with William Thompson eventually became a sexual liaison. Anna was a widow when their friendship was formed, and after his early death wrote anonymously of how he had respected a woman who ‘when no other obstacles existed but unequal marriage-laws, would refuse to be the legalized servant of any man’, while he in his turn remained a bachelor because he was unwilling to become ‘master of a slave … docile to his will …’45 Perhaps they were able to make a more equitable arrangement for themselves. Certainly it would not have been surprising if they had, since most of the feminist publicists who did have mates seem to have chosen men in Thompson's mould; that is, Socialists with a particular interest in feminist issues. Frances Morrison, a working-class feminist, was married to a militant supporter of female unionization;46 Catherine Barmby to a high-minded young bohemian who espoused Shelleyan views on sexual relations;47 Margaret Chappellsmith to a man who wholeheartedly supported her activities as a feminist lecturer, and occasionally poured the tea at her public meetings.48 Within the Socialist movement, then, these women found not only a political base but a new type of personal relationship with men, one founded not on dependence and subordination, but—as Anna Wheeler wrote of her relationship with Thompson—on ‘generous feelings’ and ‘moral courage’.49

Clearly these women were not antagonistic to heterosexual relationships per se, nor even to marriage if by that was meant a loving union of social equals. Of all the leading Owenite feminists, only Fanny Wright ever advocated the total abolition of marriage in favour of liberated liaisons, and even she gave way at the prospect of bearing an illegitimate child. Nor were they hostile to other features of women's traditional role. Motherhood in particular most Owenite feminists valued highly in theory, although in practice it often proved burdensome and traumatic. Anna Wheeler's relationship with her daughter, Rosina, was plagued by misunderstandings and by Rosina's resentment of her mother's political commitments (although later Rosina came to share Anna's feminist views).50 Fanny Wright did eventually make a stab at conventional family life, with D’Arusmont and their daughter Sylva, but gave it up to return to radical platforms in America. Her re-entry into politics eventually cost her not only her marriage but also her daughter, who remained with D’Arusmont and became entirely estranged from her mother.51 Emma Martin, on the other hand, managed to maintain a very good relationship with her three girls, but she had to pay friends to care for them during her lecturing tours or else risk subjecting them to the rigours of a peripatetic political life (including, on one occasion, being stoned in the streets of a hostile town).52 Small wonder all these women looked forward to a new mode of existence—one which would allow them to combine love and maternity with wider social aspirations.

As an ideological stance, sexual nonconformity was also closely connected to the heterodox religious outlook which was so central to the ethos of early Socialism. The link between feminism and religious freethought is examined below, but its significance can begin to be measured by the fact that every Owenite feminist was, in contemporary terminology, an ‘infidel’ opponent of organized religion. Anna Wheeler was an avowed ‘materialist’ (to whom Christ was ‘that eastern philosopher’), as was Emma Martin who became one of Owenism's leading secularists.53 Fanny Wright won an awesome reputation for godless immoralism on the basis of some rather insubstantial but sharply polemical Popular Lectures in which she attacked the church as a citadel of conservatism, particularly sexual conservatism. And in the early 1830s one of the leading Owenite lecturers in London was a woman named Eliza Macauley, who combined vigorously feminist views with intransigent hostility to the ‘superstition-mongering’ clergy. Like Anna and Fanny, Eliza was an independent woman. Unlike them, however, she was also a desperately poor one who lived almost entirely by her wits and her pen: a way of life typical of many Owenite feminists, but hardly compatible with respectable Christian womanhood.

ELIZA MACAULEY (178?-1837)

According to her sketchy autobiographical memoirs, Eliza was the daughter of a poor Yorkshire farmer who died, in the mid-1780s, when she was only an infant, leaving his family destitute.54 Casting about for a way to support herself, Eliza began an acting career: first in local barns in her neighbourhood and, eventually, in London. She arrived in London around 1805 and for the next twenty years or so went from one low-paid, badly-reviewed theatrical production to another, until finally a sustained period of unemployment (which she blamed on the philistinism of metropolitan theatre directors) led her to abandon the thespian life, or at least to turn her dramatic talents in other directions.55 By the late 1820s she had moved from the stage to the pulpit, preaching in a little ‘Jacobinical’ chapel in Grub Street.56 From there she transferred herself—how or why is not recorded—to Owenite platforms, becoming, in her own words, a ‘good Co-operative woman’.57 By the early 1830s she was deeply involved in London Owenite activities, managing the largest Labour Exchange there and delivering regular lectures on subjects as widely varied as financial reform, child development, the evils of Christian orthodoxy, and women's right to full social equality.58 She was probably paid a small amount for these lectures, but obviously not enough, since throughout this period she also kept busy giving acting lessons (one visiting group of Saint Simonians hired her for this purpose)59 and producing small volumes of essays on edifying topics, ‘poetic effusions’, and other staple ingredients of a literary lady's repertoire. But ‘literary pursuits are the most arduous of any … and subject to the most mortifications—particularly for females’, so by 1835 she was to be found publishing her memoirs (sold by subscription) from a cell in the Marshalsea debtors' prison.60 She died on a lecture tour, two years later.

A sad, brave little tale, dominated by the types of financial dilemmas which plagued all women of her kind—women who, in her own words, ‘lack goods or fortune, and, if thrown upon the world, have but the choice of industry for existence’.61 Looking down the social ladder of Owenite feminism from Anna Wheeler and Fanny Wright to the rungs on which the majority of their sisters stood, we see many women of this sort—women who, like Anna and Fanny, lived a ‘masterless’ existence outside conventional family life but, unlike them, lacked the income to sustain it. Some, like Emma Martin, had deliberately taken on this independent status by leaving their husbands. But many others, like Eliza, were spinsters for whom an unhusbanded life may well have been an infliction rather than a choice. Certainly getting a husband had never been harder than it was at this time. From the late eighteenth century onward the number of unmarried women in Britain had increased rapidly, while at the same time the economic prospects of such women steadily deteriorated.62 Eliza Macauleys proliferated, eking out a precarious existence on the margins of professional or literary society. Such women were pitied for their man-less state, but as one woman sharply pointed out, the reason ‘so many unmarried women are unhappy is not because they are old maids, but in consequence of poverty, and of the difficulty they encounter in maintaining a decent position in society …’63

When Emma Martin left her husband to join the Owenites, she was initially able to support herself and her daughters with the small salary paid by the Owenite Central Board for her lectures. Later, however, she was forced to take up teaching, shopkeeping and midwifery, none of which provided an income sufficient for the needs of her growing girls. Finally, like Eliza, she was reduced to a public appeal for funds.64 Over the years Owen himself received many letters from women in a similar plight, including one who had been deserted by her husband and was currently taking in washing for a living, several who sought teaching employment, and a few who simply begged him for financial assistance (which he gave). ‘I feel as if I stand alone, unaided, unblessed, without protection, support or comfort,’ Jane Lewsche, a Manchester widow, wrote to him. ‘All to suffer and nothing to enjoy. How long this struggle will last I cannot tell …’65

Such conditions bred feminists, and many of the most militant contributions to the Owenite feminist literature came from ‘odd women’ like these. From their fragmentary self-descriptions most appear to have come from petit bourgeois backgrounds … but the conventional class label utterly fails to convey the displaced, ambiguous quality of their lives. Outside traditional women's roles, thrust into an unwomanly independence, women like Eliza Macauley and Emma Martin soon found themselves living right at the edge of bourgeois gentility, at the point where gruelling work and poverty blurred the line between themselves and the lower orders. Lacking any route into male-controlled professions or commercial opportunities, they often entered jobs shared with women from the class below them. Emma Martin was a schoolteacher, but so also was the working-class Owenite feminist, Frances Morrison, while the many female ‘teachers of infant and private schools’ reported in attendance at Socialist meetings on women's rights in Leicester in the late 1830s could have been either middle or working class, and were probably some of both.66 Needlewomen, of whom the Owenite movement contained many, were usually the wives or daughters of working men, but from the beginning of the century their ranks had been steadily swollen by impoverished ‘gentlewomen’, usually spinsters or widows. Certainly some jobs—governessing, writing, serving as a ‘lady's companion’—were considered more genteel than others (although they were usually just as badly paid).67 But in general it was attachment to a man of a particular class position which established a woman's social rank, not her own economic status. When a woman had to labour for a living she could all too easily find herself inhabiting a region where class differences blurred in the face of a common female oppression.

This may help to explain why women like Eliza Macauley and Emma Martin so strongly identified with the cause of working people—and also why all Owenite feminists identified women's oppression as a trans-class phenomenon. The problems which united women from different backgrounds may have seemed more important than the social and cultural differences which divided them. Yet the differences obviously remained. In general Owenite feminists tended to ignore them, but in 1833 one group of London women established a Practical Moral Union of Women of Great Britain and Ireland whose aim, in the words of its founding manifesto, was ‘to combine all classes of women’ in the struggle for sexual equality, so that ‘the broad line of demarcation which has been drawn between different classes of women, will be effaced’.68 This, the first separatist feminist organization established in Britain, was a short-lived venture, collapsing after only six or seven months. The reasons for its failure are unclear, but the strong opposition which it met from at least one leading male Owenite may have had something to do with it. ‘Fatal to the advancement of women would be an exclusive union,’ he wrote to The Crisis shortly after the Union was formed, ‘the line of separation would be extended between the sexes …’

Are the interests of man and woman separate, or is their interest one and the same? … If woman denounce the right usurped by man of legislating exclusively for the whole, how can she expect but every rational man will not protest against woman being the legislator, excluding man from any participation in that right? … woman is equal with man by the laws of our physical condition … Do the laws of our nature show we are destined to live together in a social state? If monasteries for men and nunneries for women be not a violation of the laws of nature, then we should return to that state; but if they are a violation of our social condition, then the projected society of women would be pernicious. Let man see his own interest in restoring woman to freedom, then will he himself be free.69

(In reply, the Union's organizers stated that they had never entertained ‘the slightest idea that the interests of the two sexes are in opposition to each other’, but wished only to unite in assisting those men who ‘are putting forth their moral and intellectual strength to extricate that deeply injured half of the human race from the thraldom in which they are involved’—a statement reflecting a lack of political confidence which may well have proved the Union's undoing.)

No membership lists from the Union survive, but several letters from feminists sent to the Owenite press at the time suggest that they may have been active participants. One of these was from a woman who signed herself ‘a London Mechanic's Wife’.70 She was an enthusiastic advocate of feminist organization among women ‘of the labouring class’, as well as a promoter of trade unions for working women. Like so many of the working-class women who became involved in Owenism, nothing is known about her personal history. But in 1834 she entered into a brief correspondence with another working-class feminist, Frances Morrison, of whom more is known since she eventually became one of the leading Owenite lecturers in northern England.


Frances Cooper was the illegitimate daughter of a Surrey farmgirl.71 Her early years were spent with her grandmother, who took responsibility for her upkeep and schooling. Later she re-joined her mother in Pershore, and it was there, in 1822, that a housepainter named James Morrison, tramping for work, caught her eye. Frances, only fifteen years old and soon very much in love, agreed to return with James to his native Birmingham, where they lived together without benefit of a wedding ceremony.72 After four or five years, however, she became pregnant and they wed: a common order of events in the early nineteenth century working class.

The first few years of Frances' married life were occupied with childbirth and childrearing (she had four daughters), running a small newspaper shop, and—with the encouragement of her husband—educating herself in radical politics, particularly Owenite theory. ‘Long ’ere I began to think, my reason warred with the absurd forms of society,’ she later wrote to Owen, ‘but from an ill-cultivated and wrong direction given to my mind, I could never get a solid idea till on the perusal of your Essays …’73 In 1833 James, who had previously been active in the parliamentary reform movement and, latterly, as an activist in the Owenite-dominated Operative Builders' Union, became editor of The Pioneer, a newspaper which soon became the principal organ of Owenite general unionism.74 Frances, by then also a committed Owenite and a feminist, soon began contributing articles to the paper under the pseudonym ‘A Bondswoman’, while together she and James produced a series of editorials on feminist themes, ranging from the inequities of the marriage law to the demand for equal pay for equal work. ‘A woman's wage is not reckoned at an average more than two-thirds of a male’, one of these editorials ran, ‘and we believe in reality it seldom amounts to more than a third (and wives have no wages at all). Yet, is not the produce of female labour as useful? … The industrious female is well entitled to the same amount of remuneration as the industrious male.’75

In the late 1830s, after James' premature death, Frances became a paid lecturer for the Owenites, travelling on speaking circuits throughout northern towns where she addressed large audiences on women's rights and marriage reform.76 Like Emma Martin, she soon discovered, however, that such employment was insufficient to support herself and her daughters, so she apprenticed the girls to the tape-weaving trade and, with Owen's help, found a teaching post in Hulme.77 She then effectively disappeared from the Owenite scene, although according to her children she remained faithful to her Socialist feminist ideals until the end of her days.78

Even in a movement as densely populated with working-class intellectuals as Owenism was, Frances and James Morrison nonetheless stood out as particularly impressive theorists and publicists. Yet in all other respects they were an unexceptional couple, typical of the general working-class membership of the movement. Birmingham, where they lived and worked until James' death, was a strong Owenite centre in which most male Owenites, like James, worked in skilled trades (particularly building or metalwork), while female Owenites were employed as lacemakers, buttonmakers, glassblowers, needlewomen or, like Frances, as small shopkeepers. All were occupations characteristic of the upper stratum of the working class from which most Owenites came79—a stratum which they themselves almost invariably described as ‘respectable’. The ‘great bulk’ of the Manchester Socialists, as one of their number wrote, ‘belonged to the more respectable class of artisans and their families’,80 while the Huddersfield Owenites boasted of ‘numerous and respectable’ attendances at all their meetings.

By respectable we do not mean lords, dukes, baronets, esquires, etc. … but the honest, intelligent, and industrious producers of wealth, who are the real respectables …81

Engels, surveying the movement in 1844, noted that it drew the ‘most educated and solid elements’ of the working class.82 ‘Their body consisted of the most skilful, industrious, steady, sober and moral portion of the working class,’ another observer noted, ‘those, in short, who influence the rest …’83

This proletarian respectability was a highly-specified status, bearing little resemblance to genteel notions of social refinement. It was also a status which was clearly differentiated along sexual lines. For a skilled male worker like James Morrison, the key components of a respectable lifestyle were regular employment in a recognized craft or trade which provided a steady income for his family; some small degree of education (at least to literacy level); ‘steady habits’, i.e. non-addiction to alcohol and a fairly sedate sexual life; and usually membership in one or more of a range of working-class institutions such as a Friendly Society, savings bank, Mechanics Institute, or a trade union. A respectable working man was a sober, industrious, regular provider of family necessities.84 The ability of a woman to live in a respectable manner largely depended on whether or not her husband met these criteria. Access to a steady income meant regular housekeeping, clean, well-fed children, and a stable domestic life—the defining features of a decent womanly existence. Most wives of artisans also had some small amount of education, probably a few years at a Sunday school or a short period in a church-sponsored day school. By the early nineteenth century there existed many cheap boarding schools which catered to the daughters of shopkeepers, tradesmen and the ‘better class of mechanics’, and Frances Morrison briefly attended one of these.85 Many Owenite women would also have belonged to one or other female version of a local self-help institution, perhaps a female friendly society (which would provide sickness insurance and lying-in benefits) or a clothing club.86 And some, as we shall see, were in trade unions and political organizations.

A respectable artisan home was usually financed by the joint earnings of both husband and wife. The Morrisons' arrangement—in which the wages James earned at housepainting and newspaper-editing were supplemented by the profits from Frances' shop—was very common. When the London Owenite, William Lovett, married a young lady's maid in the early 1820s he immediately began to look for ‘some small way of business that she herself could manage’ which might add to the income he earned as a cabinet-maker.87 They decided upon a pastry-shop, but after a few years Mary Lovett gave this up to become manager of the first London Co-operative shop (taking over from her husband, at one-half his salary!).88 Owenite women married to domestic craftsmen, such as shoemakers or weavers, usually assisted their husbands at their trades, while others took in laundry, did ‘slop’ sewing (cheap, ready-made goods) or ran little schools for local children. In his autobiography the Owenite whitesmith, George Holyoake, recalled the wide range of jobs performed by women in his upper working-class neighbourhood in Birmingham in the early years of the century, from the housewives who ran little bakeries and grocery shops inside their own kitchens, to the small button-making workshop which his mother had at the back of their home, where little George learned to bend the button wires almost as soon as he could stand. ‘She received the orders; made the purchase of materials; superintended the making of the goods; made out the accounts; and received the money; besides taking care of her growing family. There was no “Rights of Women” thought of in her day, but she was an entirely self-governing, managing mistress …’89

A respectable working-class wife, then, was one who kept a good home, ‘paid her own bread’, and was ‘not a burthen upon the scanty earnings of her husband’.90 This did not mean, however, that sexual roles were any less clearly defined in the working class than in the propertied classes. A woman's primary responsibility was to her husband and children, and no other employments were allowed to take precedence over the servicing of family needs. The woman who had to neglect her home in order to earn money for its upkeep was not considered respectable.91 Moreover, the wages women earned were usually far lower than those of men, so their financial contribution tended to be viewed as secondary.92 And even the small sum they did receive was legally the property of their husbands who could, if they wished, spend it on themselves instead of their families. ‘Many men think that the whole amount gained by their wives is so much drinking money gained for themselves,’ one man, a button-maker, told a Morning Chronicle reporter.93

But if the working-class woman, like the middle-class one, was usually a social inferior within marriage, she was certainly not the decorative, dependent inferior that her wealthier sister was. She had a crucial and recognized role to play in her dual capacity as wife/mother and worker. Marriage and family responsibilities did not signal her withdrawal from the world of work and work-orientated relationships, as they did for women of the upper classes, but simply confirmed her particular place within that world. The duties of womanhood were active, demanding ones, not passive, trivial ones. The concept of femininity as graceful parasitism meant nothing to her.

Within the course of the nineteenth century, however, this situation was to undergo a radical revision, as ideals of womanly dependence and decorum forged in the middle class began to appear in the working class as well, particularly in its upper strata. One key symptom of this change was growing disapproval of any extra-familial employment for married women. From having been an essential, if secondary, contributor to family income, the ideal working-class woman became viewed simply as a ‘housewife’, an unwaged provider of domestic services. Men, on the other hand, were expected to earn wages sufficient to support an entire household. His the public world of work; hers the private realm of home. By the mid-nineteenth century, at the end of the Owenite period, this pattern was already clearly discernible among urban craftsmen and other ‘labour aristocrats’ from whose ranks many Owenites had been drawn. The most respectable portion of the carpenters and joiners “will not allow” their wives to do any work than attend to their domestic and family duties,’ Henry Mayhew reported in London in 1849,94 and the same was true of many other artisans: ‘As a general rule, neither their wives nor children “go out to work”…’ ‘We keep our wives too respectable for that,’ one coachman boasted.95 On closer investigation, Mayhew found that the wives of many of these men did, in fact, take in washing or keep little shops,96 so it seems likely that the dependent housewife was still more ideal than real. But it was a potent new ideal nonetheless, and one which was to have a dramatic effect on women's status in all areas of economic and social life.

The Owenites stood at the beginning of this transition, and their own views on women were not wholly unaffected by it. But in general they remained firmly within the older tradition in which women were viewed not as passive dependants but as active participants in all matters affecting themselves, their families, and their communities. Their support for women's political involvement reflected this. As a popular movement, Owenism drew on traditions of organized militancy among working-class women which, in the decades immediately preceding the rise of the movement, had reached a high point of intensity and public visibility. Throughout the war years which opened the century, and the depression which followed them, rising prices and falling wages had brought thousands of working-class women onto the streets where they led food riots, supported strikes and demonstrated in favour of popular petitions.97 After 1815, when Jacobinism re-emerged as a mass movement for parliamentary reform, a national network of Female Reform Societies had been established in which working-class women actively campaigned for the widening of the franchise, annual parliaments, election by ballot—all the demands which were later to appear in the People's Charter.98 This level of female activism had horrified upper-class observers, who still recalled only too vividly les femmes de la Revolution.99 But reform leaders, for their part, usually welcomed the women's support. ‘This array of women against the system … I deem the most fatal omen of its fall,’ Thomas Wooler, editor of the radical newspaper, The Black Dwarf, chortled in 1819.100

Female activism of this sort, it should be emphasized, had generally been viewed not as a challenge to women's traditional family role, but as a necessary extension of it, at a time when the rights and needs of all family members were under attack. It was as ‘wives, mothers, and daughters, in their social, domestic and moral capacities’ that the Female Reformers of Lancashire had marched to political rallies in 1818-19, and it was as ‘mothers of children’ that they had called on other women for support.101 ‘Our homes which once bore ample testimony of our industry and cleanliness … are now alas! robbed of all their ornaments,’ as Alice Kitchen of the Blackburn Female Reform Society told a rally in 1819, and ‘behold our innocent children! … how appalling are their cries for bread!’ Perhaps, she went on, women were not renowned for physical courage, yet she and her sisters were prepared to sally forth in defence of ‘that food and raiment for our children, which God and nature have ordained for every living creature; but which our oppressors and tyrannical rulers have withheld from us’.102

This style of militant wifehood and motherhood both encouraged and limited female activism—allowing women to join social movements without being accused of unwomanliness, while at the same time usually ensuring that the role they occupied within these movements was a secondary, subordinate one. Prior to Owenism, women themselves rarely used radical platforms to raise demands related to their own status. Rather, they saw themselves as primarily engaged, in the words of the Blackburn Female Reformers, in ‘assisting the male population of this country to acquire their rights and liberties’. And the types of activities which absorbed them—organizing fund-raising events, teaching in radical Sunday Schools, sewing Caps of Liberty for leading male radicals—tended to reflect this auxiliary status.103 As in the home, so in popular protest women were seen as essential but secondary adjuncts to the men.

And yet, other ideas were also in the air. Any mobilization of women carries within it a potential challenge to sexual conventions, and from the 1790s onward there were always a number of working-class radicals prepared to openly state that challenge. The same ‘Paine-ite’ aspects of Wollstonecraft's Vindication which had led Walpole to refuse to have it in his library,104 had placed it firmly within the intellectual culture of the radical working class, where it stimulated a small-scale but lively debate over feminist ideas. Arguments over whether women ought to be granted the franchise appeared in radical newspapers, along with discussions of Wollstonecraft's views on female education, Godwin and Spence's anti-marriage doctrines and Shelley's eloquent vision of a new age of sex equality.105 In the 1820s and 30s the newspapers published by the leading free press campaigner, Richard Carlile, gave vigorous backing to feminist demands.106 ‘I do not like the doctrine of women keeping at home, and minding the house and family,’ Carlile complained in 1832, ‘It is as much the proper business of the man as the woman's, and the woman, who is so confined, is not the proper companion of the public useful man.’107 She certainly would not have been a proper companion for Carlile, who expected his female associates to sell his illegal publications, run his bookshops, stand trial for these activities, and suffer imprisonment if necessary.108 In 1832 he established a common-law union with Eliza Sharples, who published, under his direction, a feminist freethought journal named The Isis, while at the same time delivering regular lectures on women's position at the Rotunda (a radical meeting-house in South London which later became an Owenite centre). ‘Sooner or later it [female emancipation] must come,’ The Isis told its readers, ‘and no other reason is to be offered against the equality of the sexes, than that which tyranny has to offer on every occasion—its will and power …’109

By the 1830s most of these working-class supporters of women's rights had declared for Owenism, and merged their feminist rhetoric with that of the new movement.110 Ideas hitherto confined to a small vanguard of radical intellectuals began to find broader channels of expression through the expanding propaganda network of Socialist organization. Not every new convert to Owenism was enthusiastic about this development. ‘Why talk of making women rational until we have first made ourselves rational?’ as Henry Hetherington, a leading London Owenite, demanded, ‘or why talk of restoring them to their social rights until we have first obtained our own?’111 Such hostility … was particularly pronounced among certain groups of Owenite trade unionists, for whom the feminist challenge appeared as a direct threat to their status as a labour elite. But in general the new style of sexual egalitarianism was received with sympathetic interest by the growing popular membership of Owenism. Working-class Socialists, their eyes set on the new social order to be built, took up feminism as part of the ideological equipment necessary for the task.


  1. The Whitehaven Herald, 15 January 1842. Estimates as to the numerical strength of Owenism vary enormously, ranging anywhere between 3,000 supporters and half a million, indicating how difficult it is to assess the size of the movement. During the years 1829-34 there was no Owenite ‘membership’ as such, but rather a large number of working people involved in Owenite-influenced schemes, such as the co-operative societies (of which there were about 500 by 1832), the labour exchanges, and the general union mobilization. It is impossible to judge how many of these people considered themselves ‘Owenites’, although it was certainly far less than the total number involved in these projects. After 1835, however, the movement was much more formally structured, with branches and official membership lists. Even then, however, actual figures for Owenite adherents still remain elusive: Harrison (Owen, p. 229) has accepted a membership figure of between 70,000 to 100,000 for the Association of All Classes of All Nations, but Mary Hennell's estimate of 3,000 enrolled members in 1841 (An Outline of the Various Social Systems and Communities Funded on the Principle of Co-Operation [1841], p. 170) seems more realistic (and since she was at least tangentially involved in the movement in Birmingham, her guess was probably a well-informed one). To this ‘official’ membership would have to be added, however, thousands of sympathizers who regularly attended meetings, participated in Owenite social events, and generally identified themselves with the movement's aims (the Hall of Science built in Manchester in 1840 held 3,000 people, while the total capacity of all the Socialist halls opened in the late 1830s and early 1840s was well over 20,000). The few membership figures from individual Socialist branches which are available indicate that these usually contained about the same number of women as men, although in some cases recruitment of women was slower (see, for example, the reports from Manchester in New Moral World, 2 April, 21 May 1842).

    In 1840 Flora Tristan claimed that there were at least a half million Socialists in Britain (Promenades dans Londres, Paris [1840], p. 383), and although the figure was obviously exaggerated, it is an interesting indication of how impressive Owenite influence seemed to many observers.

  2. Gustave d’Eichthal, reporting to ‘Pere’ Enfantin; quoted in Pankhurst, Saint Simonians, p. 71.

  3. The Christian Lady's Magazine (1840), p. 378.

  4. There has been little systematic research on the social background of the Owenite membership. Harrison's book (Owen) is rich with detail on individual Owenites, and gives a good general sense of the upper working-class/lower middle-class milieu from which most Socialists were drawn; Thompson's account of the artisan base of the movement in its co-operative phase is very good (Making, pp. 868-7). But the bulk of the ‘Owen’ literature disregards the question of who these ideas and schemes attracted (and there has been no study of the female membership).

  5. Queenwood membership lists were published in NMW, 3 June 1843; 8 June 1844; 24 May 1845. For a more detailed discussion of the female residents, see below, pp. 239-240.

  6. The Ham Common Concordium was a small Richmond commune whose president for a time was Sophia Chichester, while one of its residents was her friend Mrs Welsh. Both were wealthy feminist mystics who also helped finance the career of the Owenite millennialist James Smith (W. Anderson Smith, ‘Shepherd’ Smith the Universalist: the Story of a Mind [1892], pp. 191-8, 205).

  7. For the women of Ralahine, see below pp. 247-248.

  8. For meetings of working women at the Charlotte Street Institution, see The Official Gazette of the Trades Unions, 12, 21 June 1834. See Chapter Four for a discussion of women's co-operative associations and trade unions in the early 1830s.

  9. The Working Bee, 12 December 1841.

  10. NMW, 11 August 1838.

  11. George Gissing, The Odd Women, first ed. 1893 (1980). Gissing's book is a fictional account of Victorian feminists, but his portrait of the self-educated women who made up the backbone of the movement in the later period applies almost as well to the Owenite feminists of a quarter century earlier.

  12. The most useful source for Anna's life is the brief but detailed study by Pankhurst, ‘Anna Wheeler’. Other sources are: M. Sadlier, Bulwer Lytton and His Wife (1933); Louisa Devey, Life of Rosina, Lady Lytton (1887); Smith, ‘Shepherd’ Smith; Gans, ‘Socialistes’.

  13. Pankhurst, ‘Wheeler’, p. 133.

  14. ibid.

  15. The British Co-operator, April 1830.

  16. Smith, ‘Shepherd’ Smith, p. 148.

  17. The Crisis, 19 October 1833.

  18. Anna Wheeler, ‘Letter to M. Jullian’ (15 November 1832); reprinted with an introduction by Stephen Burke, Studies in Labour History, vol. 1, no. 1 (1976), p. 22. See also Smith, ‘Shepherd’ Smith, p. 205, for letters from her to Smith complaining of illness.

  19. Pankhurst, ‘Wheeler’, p. 142.

  20. Wheeler, ‘Letter to Jullian’, p. 22.

  21. Sadlier, Lytton, p. 38.

  22. Pankhurst, ‘Wheeler’, p. 135.

  23. Wheeler, ‘Letter to Jullian’, p. 20.

  24. ibid.

  25. For the feminism of Fox and his circle, see F. E. Mineka, The Dissidence of Dissent (Chapel Hill, 1944), pp. 284-96. The other major liberal journal which published feminist contributions was The Westminster Review; see for example, the article on women's education which appeared in The Westminster Review, vol. XV (July-October 1831).

  26. See, for example, NMW, 15 July 1837; 2 February 1839; 17 August 1844.

  27. For Mill's favourable comments on Owenism and Owenite marriage doctrine, see F. A. Hayek, John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor (1951), p. 74, 300; and also his Autobiography. Both Mill and Harriet Taylor later described themselves as Socialists. Fox praised Owen in an 1823 article in The Monthly Repository and later claimed that his exclusion from the Unitarian hierarchy was due to his promotion of Owenite-type sexual doctrines (Mineka, Dissidence, p. 188). Even Harriet Martineau contributed towards the cost of Emma Martin's gravestone, in recognition of Emma's contribution to the feminist cause.

  28. The British Co-operator, April 1830.

  29. Wheeler, ‘Letter to Jullian’, p. 21.

  30. I. B. O’Malley, Women in Subjection (1933), pp. 54-92. See also M. Phillips and W. S. Tomkinson, English Women in Life and Letters (1926), pp. 164-223.

  31. The British Co-operator, April 1830.

  32. For Eliza Macauley, see below, pp. 71-72.

  33. NMW, 4 May 1839.

  34. Waterman, Frances Wright, p. 26; Lane, Frances Wright, p. 5.

  35. Mrs Barbauld, Works, 2 vols. (1825), vol. 1, p. 57.

  36. Frances Wright, Course of Popular Lectures (New York, 1829), p. 86.

  37. For the life of Fanny Wright see her Biography, Notes and Political Letters (Boston, 1849), and also: W. R. Waterman, Frances Wright (New York, 1924); A. J. G. Perkins and T. Wolfson, Frances Wright, Free Enquirer (New York, 1939); M. Lane, Frances Wright and the ‘Great Experiment’ (Manchester, 1972).

  38. The British Co-operator, April 1830.

  39. Harrison, Owen, p. 86.

  40. Wheeler, ‘Letter to Jullian’, p. 22.

  41. Quoted in Lane, Frances Wright, p. 29.

  42. Perkins and Wolfson, Frances Wright, pp. 166-71.

  43. ibid., pp. 370-81.

  44. For Emma's marriage see below, pp. 132-133.

  45. ‘Vlasta’ (Anna Wheeler), ‘Letter to John Minter Morgan’, in John Minter Morgan, Hampden in the Nineteenth Century, 2 vols. (1834), p. 323, 320.

  46. For Frances Morrison's marriage see below, pp. 75-77.

  47. Catherine and Goodwyn Barmby were the leaders of a tiny but fascinating sect called the Communist Church (see below, pp. 172-182.)

  48. NMW, 25 April 1840.

  49. ‘Vlasta’ (Anna Wheeler), ‘Letter to Morgan’, p. 324.

  50. Lady Lytton and her husband eventually became embroiled in a public scandal, involving mutual accusations of sexual misconduct. Her Ladyship emerged from the marriage a militant feminist (see her exchange of letters with James Smith in Smith, ‘Shepherd’ Smith, pp. 325-401). Lady Lytton's grand-daughter was Constance Lytton, a famous suffragette.

  51. Lane, Frances Wright, pp. 40-5.

  52. See below, pp. 130-156.

  53. For Anna Wheeler's religious views, see Smith, ‘Shepherd’ Smith, p. 335, and her letter to Owen, Owen Corres. 426.

  54. Elizabeth Wright Macauley, Autobiographical Memoirs (1834 and 1835).

  55. She departed the stage in a flurry of tracts denouncing their owners and the rest of the acting profession. See, for example, Facts Against Falsehood, Being a Brief Statement of Miss Macauley's Engagements at the Winter Theatres; the Subterfuges by which she has been driven from the regular exercise of her profession and withheld from at least two-thirds of the Public of this Metropolis. etc. … (1824). She also shared the platform with Eliza Sharples at the Rotunda in 1832 (The Isis, 3 November 1832).

  56. Iorwerth Prothero, Artisans and Politics in Early Nineteenth Century London: John Gast and His Times (Folkestone, 1979), p. 260.

  57. The Lancashire and Yorkshire Co-operator, May 1832.

  58. The Crisis, 7 July, 25 August 1832; The Isis, 3 November 1832; The Poor Man's Guardian, 11 January 1834.

  59. Pankhurst, Saint-Simonians, p. 130.

  60. Macauley, Memoirs, see the newspaper clipping glued in the back of the 1834 edition for her obituary.

  61. Elizabeth Wright Macauley, Poetical Effusions (1812), p. ix.

  62. For a more developed discussion of this, see below, pp. 192-193.

  63. (Anon.), Can Women Regenerate Society? (1844), p. 117.

  64. See below, pp. 155.

  65. Owen Corres. 470.

  66. NMW, 11 August 1838. One local study of female school-teachers has shown that most were widows or spinsters for whom ‘opening a school was a simple … response to poverty … not unlike taking in laundry or becoming a needlewoman’ (John Field, ‘Private Schools in Portsmouth and Southampton, 1850-1870’, Journal of Educational Administration and History, vol. x, no. 2 (July 1978), pp. 9-10). At the lower end were the dame schools run mostly by working-class women; at the upper end were boarding schools, which were more genteel and usually run by women from slightly better-off backgrounds (like Emma Martin).

  67. The poverty of women employed in ladylike occupations was notorious. In 1804 the Ladies' Society for the Education and Employment of the Female Poor issued a statement in which they condemned the lack of employment opportunities for the ‘unprovided daughters of clergymen, officers and others’, most of whom became teachers and governesses, and appealed for funds for their support. For accounts of charitable provision for journalists, governesses and schoolteachers in the mid-nineteenth century, see C. Kent, ‘The Whittington Club; a Bohemian Experiment in Middle-Class Social Reform’, Victorian Studies, vol. XVIII, no. 1 (September 1974), p. 37; M. Jeanne Peterson, ‘The Victorian Governess’, in M. Vicinus, ed., Suffer and Be Still: Women in the Victorian Age (Bloomington, 1973); Lee Holcombe, Victorian Ladies at Work (Newton Abbot, 1973), p. 54.

  68. The Crisis, 24 August 1833.

  69. ibid. The Union was still meeting in March 1834, under the leadership of a woman named Mrs Brooks. It disappeared from the Owenite records after this, but Mrs Brooks went on to organize a women's trade union which may well have been a successor to the original Union.

  70. The Pioneer, 18 January, 8 February, 22 February 1834.

  71. John Sever, ‘James Morrison of The Pioneer’ (typed ms. in British Museum), pp. 7-10.

  72. Sever suggests that she was living with Morrison's relatives all this time, but this seems unlikely (particularly given her pregnancy, which preceded their marriage).

  73. Owen Corres. 476.

  74. James Morrison was an active radical before his conversion to Owenism. Birmingham in the 1820s was a lively political milieu, and not long after his marriage James became caught up in local political and trade union agitations, combining involvement in the city's Mechanics Institute with the editorship of a short-lived radical paper, The Artisan, and authorship of reams of sentimental poetry. His speeches from the period reveal him to have been, as he later described himself in a letter to Owen, ‘a stickler for vulgar liberty’: a passionate and intensely optimistic reformer whose support for the unstamped press and trade union organization both had their sources in a craving ‘for a practical knowledge of the means whereby to effect a change in the conditions of my fellow workmen and to devote my whole energies to their complete emancipation’ (Owen Corres. 649). In 1831 the workers in the building trades in Birmingham came together to form a single union—the Operative Builders' Union—whose programme for inter-trade solidarity and worker self-management was heavily Owenite-influenced. By 1833 Morrison was deeply involved in the OBU and also with the Labour Exchanges in Birmingham; in that year he offered to launch The Pioneer as the official organ of the OBU. The paper began that autumn, and very soon became one of the most important forums for Owenite trade unionist ideas; in 1834 it became the newspaper of the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union. (This account of Morrison's career is largely drawn from J. Saville's study of Morrison's collaboration with James Smith in ‘J. E. Smith and the Owenite Movement’ in Pollard and Salt, Robert Owen, pp. 126-38).

  75. The Pioneer, 12 April 1834.

  76. James died after an accidental fall. Immediately after his death a subscription was set up within the Owenite movement to assist Frances and her girls: with the money raised she purchased a small shop in Finsbury. But apparently the venture proved unsatisfactory, for by the late 1830s she was living in Salford, where she served as official ‘hostess’ in the Owenite Social Institution, and then became a stipendiary lecturer, travelling on a northern speaking circuit. ‘We have had a glorious day today,’ came one report (NMW, 17 November 1838) from Huddersfield during one of these tours:

    Mrs Morrison lectured in the afternoon on the rights of women, and … in the evening on the marriage question. On both occasions the institution was densely crowded, and from 200 to 300 most respectable females attended each lecture … some hundreds must have returned, disappointed, being unable to obtain admittance.

    Frances produced only one major piece of feminist writing during this later period: an essay on marriage which is discussed in Chapter Six.

  77. Owen Corres. 476.

  78. She eventually married a pastry-cook called Robert Sutton, and had another daughter by him. She died in 1898. Sever claims she retained her Owenite and feminist sympathies to the last, but there is one piece of evidence which throws this in doubt. In the mid-1840s a woman called Frances Morrison began delivering lectures against Socialism in Manchester and other towns, and The New Moral World claimed she was ‘the widow of the former editor of The Pioneer’ (NMW, 21 December 1844). Since false reports of Socialist recantations circulated constantly, however, this one may easily have been a fiction.

  79. For the occupations of Birmingham Owenites, male and female, see the lists of products sold at the Labour Exchange there (The Birmingham Labour Exchange Gazette, January-February 1833).

  80. NMW, 17 August 1839.

  81. ibid., 25 November 1838.

  82. F. Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England, first ed. 1845; first English trans. 1877 (1969), p. 263.

  83. NMW, 23 May 1840.

  84. A most useful contemporary source for the lives of the upper working class is the series of reports which appeared in The Morning Chronicle under the title ‘Labour and the Poor’ between October 1849 and May 1851, of which Henry Mayhew's four volume London Labour and the London Poor (1861) was a part. (Sources which have been used for specific groups of workers are indicated in separate notes.) General secondary sources include: Prothero, Artisans; Thompson, Making, chapters 8, 10, 12, 16; Sally Alexander, ‘Women's Work in Nineteenth Century London’, in Mitchell and Oakley, Rights, pp. 59-111; M. D. George, London Life in the Eighteenth Century (Harmondsworth, 1965); J. F. and L. B. Hammond, The Skilled Labourer, 1760-1832 (1920).

    Unionized male workers in skilled trades in London could expect to earn thirty shillings a week or more. E. P. Thompson has estimated that about five or six per cent of the workforce in most trades were ‘society men’ with earnings at about this level (Making, p. 277n.).

  85. For an interesting discussion of these schools see P. J. Miller, ‘Women's Education, Self-Improvement, and Social Mobility; a Late Eighteenth Century Debate’, British Journal of Educational Studies, XX (October 1972). Frances' school, in Bury St Edmunds, was run by two women named Leache (Sever, ‘Morrison’, p. 12).

  86. For an interesting account of women's involvement in friendly societies and other self-help associations, see Elizabeth Nicholson, ‘Working Class Women in Nineteenth-Century Nottingham 1815-1850’ (B.A. Thesis, University of Birmingham, 1974). Kenneth Corfield's ‘Some Social and Radical Organizations among Working-Class Women in Manchester and District, 1790-1820’ (B.A. Thesis, University of Birmingham, 1974) has similar information for the South Lancashire area.

  87. William Lovett, Life and Struggles of William Lovett, in his Pursuit of Bread, Knowledge and Freedom, first ed., 1876 (1967), pp 31-2.

  88. ibid., p. 34.

  89. G. J. Holyoake, Sixty Years of an Agitator's Life, 2 vols. (1893), vol. 1, pp. 10-19.

  90. T. Kelly, Thoughts on the Marriages of the Labouring Poor (1806), p. 12.

  91. See Chapter Four for a discussion of how an incompatibility between waged work and domestic labours developed in many sectors of the working class in this period.

  92. For wage-levels of women in all major areas of employment in the early nineteenth century, see Pinchbeck, Women Workers. One-half to two-thirds of a male wage level seems to have been a typical level for women's wages in most industries, on Pinchbeck's evidence.

  93. ‘Labour and the Poor’, The Morning Chronicle, 25 November 1850, reprinted in P. E. Razzell and R. W. Wainwright, The Victorian Working Class: Selections from Letters to The Morning Chronicle (1973), p. 297. See also Pinchbeck, Women Workers, p. 312, and Sir F. M. Eden, The State of the Poor, 2 vols. (1797) vol. 1, p. 630, for a discussion of working-class women's lack of legal control over their own wages.

  94. ‘Labour and the Poor’, The Morning Chronicle, 11 July 1850, reprinted in Razzell and Wainwright, Working Class, p. 125.

  95. ibid., 4 July 1850 and 26 September 1850, reprinted in Razzell and Wainwright, Working Class, p. 122, 151.

  96. ibid., 11 July 1850, reprinted in Razzell and Wainwright, Working Class, p. 125.

  97. For the involvement of women in food riots, see E. P. Thompson, ‘The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century’, Past and Present, no. 50 (1971), pp. 115-20. For women and strike action, see below, pp. 90-94. For women's involvement in Luddism, see Samuel Bamford, Early Days (1848), p. 304. See also E. J. Hobsbawn and G. Rude, Captain Swing (Harmondsworth, 1973), pp. 202-3, 208-9 for women's involvement in the ‘Swing’ outbreaks in the agricultural districts.

  98. Dorothy Thompson, ‘Women and Nineteenth Century Radical Politics: a Lost Dimension’, in Mitchell and Oakley, Rights, pp. 112-38. See also E. and R. Frow, ‘Women in the Early Radical and Labour Movement’, Marxism Today (April 1968) and O’Malley, Women in Subjection, ch. 10.

  99. Castlereagh, in his speech introducing the Seditious Meetings Prevention Bill in November 1819, reminded the Female Reformers that ‘when the French Republicans were carrying on their bloody orgies, they could find no female to join them except by ransacking the bagnios or public brothels …’ (Hansard, 29 November 1819, Vol. XLI, p. 391; quoted in O’Malley, Women in Subjection, p. 319). For horrified reports of female involvement in radical politics see, for example, The British Volunteer, 10 July 1819.

  100. The Black Dwarf, 14 July 1819.

  101. Quoted in Frow, ‘Women’, p. 106.

  102. The Black Dwarf, 14 July 1819.

  103. The Manchester Observer, 26 June 1819; quoted in Corfield, ‘Working Class Women’, p. 40. ‘Exclusive dealing’ (shopping only in those shops whose owners supported reform demands) was a tactic seen to be particularly appropriate for women. ‘This is what woman can do … without a moment's neglect of our ordinary occupations,’ as one woman wrote in support of exclusive dealing in 1831, ‘the spending of money (especially in domestic concerns) is the province of women, in it we can act without the risk of being called politicians.’ (The Poor Man's Guardian, 26 May 1832).

  104. Malmgreen, ‘Women's Suffrage’, p. 25.

  105. See, for example, The Black Dwarf, 16 September; 7, 14 October 1818. The transmission of feminist ideas into the radical working class was part of a wider process which might best be described as the proletarianization of the Enlightenment. By the early decades of the nineteenth century it was mostly among working people that writers such as Rousseau, Volney, Diderot, Godwin and Wollstonecraft were read. When Engels arrived in Manchester in the early 1840s he was astounded to discover that whereas ‘the bourgeoisie … trembles, blesses and crosses itself’ before the ideas of the French materialists, or Shelley's poetry, or Godwin's philosophy, ‘the proletarian has open eyes for it, and studies it with pleasure and success’. (He added that the Owenites were particularly praiseworthy in this respect.) ‘The proletariat has formed upon this basis a literature, which … is far in advance of the whole bourgeois literature in intrinsic worth’ (Engels, Working Class, pp. 265-6).

  106. See, for example, The Prompter, 9 April 1830; The Gauntlet, 22 September 1833; The Isis, 22 September, 14 April 1832. Carlile's Everywoman's Book included an impassioned plea for women's sexual liberation, based on the separation of sexual pleasure from reproduction (for its place in the history of birth control literature, see Peter Fryer, The Birth Controllers [1965], pp. 74-8).

  107. The Isis, 3 March 1832.

  108. G. D. H. Cole, Richard Carlile, Fabian Society Biographical Series Number 13 (1943). For a letter to Carlile from 150 Birmingham women who sold his illegal newspapers there, see The Gauntlet, 25 August 1833 (where the women compare themselves to the women of the 1830 Revolution in France). For an account of the trial of Susannah Wright, one of Carlile's London volunteers (a lacemaker), see Thompson, Making, pp. 802-3. She was thrown into prison with her infant. In London, several dozen of these female ‘unstamped’ newspaper vendors organized themselves into a group called the Friends of the Oppressed; their activities may be traced through The Poor Man's Guardian in 1832 and 1833. The only recorded discussion of women's position held by the ‘Friends’ was in November 1832, when they decided to ‘set an example to females’ by refusing to be churched after child-birth (The Poor Man's Guardian, 1 December 1832). This group was probably a predecessor of the London Female Chartist groups of the late 1830s, although no doubt some of its members were Owenites as well.

  109. The Isis, 14 April 1832. Eliza Sharples, the daughter of a Bolton merchant, first met Carlile when he came to Bolton to lecture in 1829. She began to correspond with him, and in 1832 came to London on his urging. They soon became lovers, and she remained with him until his death (for his account of their ‘Moral Marriage’ see The Gauntlet, 22 September 1833).

  110. For an account of the movement of Carlileans (sometimes known as ‘Zetetics’) into Owenism, see Edward Royle, Victorian Infidels (Manchester, 1974), p. 50. Among them were men like Alexander Campbell, Rowland Detrosier and John Gale Jones, all of whom actively supported women's equality; no doubt some of the female supporters of Owenite feminism had also been associated with Carlile, although no individuals can be traced.

    After Carlile's death, Eliza Sharples briefly joined the Richmond community known as the Ham Common Concordium, where she did needlework to earn her living; thereafter she became the manageress of the Warner Street Temperance Hall in London, where she befriended the young Charles Bradlaugh and converted him to secularism. She corresponded with Owen, but despite this and her brief residence at the Concordium, there is no evidence that she ever embraced Owenite ideals. For her life (and some of her correspondence with Carlile) see T. C. Campbell, The Battle of the Press, as told in the story of the life of Richard Carlile, by his daughter (1899).

    Another source of working-class feminism within Owenism were the followers of Thomas Spence (see Prothero, Artisans, pp. 257-8, for an account of the Spencean presence within Owenism). George Petrie (who wrote under the name ‘Agrarius’) and another Spencean, Richard Lee, produced a very popular periodical in 1833 called The Man which carried a number of articles advocating women's emancipation. Petrie lectured on women's rights at the Institution of the Working Classes in Theobalds Road in London in 1832 (I. Prothero, ‘London Working-Class Movements, 1823-1848’ [Ph.D. Thesis, Cambridge, 1966], p. 150). There was also a Spencean couple called the Neesoms who promoted feminist ideas and women's trade union organization in London in the 1830s and early 1840s.

  111. The Destructive, 23 November 1833. Hetherington soon altered his views, however, and became a polemical (if somewhat capricious) proponent of sexual equality. He was one of Emma Martin's closest friends.

Florence S. Boos (essay date 1990)

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Last Updated on February 6, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 9931

SOURCE: “An (Almost) Egalitarian Sage: William Morris and Nineteenth-Century Socialist-Feminism,” in Victorian Sages and Cultural Discourse: Renegotiating Gender and Power, edited by Thaïs E. Morgan, Rutgers University Press, 1990, pp. 187-206.

[In the following essay, Boos investigates the socialist-feminist element in William Morris's writing.]

In the last decade of his life, William Morris developed a sage voice of “fellowship” in works whose most memorable protagonists are outsiders: a working-class revolutionary; a soon-to-be-martyred visionary priest; two “guests” who are displaced from their physical and temporal origins; and two young women who seek to realize new forms of wisdom, independence, and social justice. Throughout his life, Morris had included in his works striking portrayals of women, and a high valuation of characteristics he considered “womanly” remained central to the conceptions of beauty and justice in his late poetry and prose romances. For his period, he was remarkably unpuritanical; his poetic embodiments of sexual relationships are attractively uninhibited, and he was unusual among Victorian poets in his preoccupation with male sexual responsibility toward female partners, rather than the reverse. In the last years of his life, however, Morris's identification with the socialist movement also led him to create female political heroes who differ markedly from the intensely passionate but dependent heroines of his early works. After his conversion to socialism, moreover, his writings addressed, with characteristic sensitivity and insight, some of the issues raised by nineteenth-century socialist feminists.

Morris's presentations of women have formed the subject of several articles, and the relation of his writings to conceptions of women, gender, sexuality, and feminism are complex and interwoven.1 I will discuss only three aspects of Morris's writing here: the ways in which his essays on art and socialism foster a prose style which conveys an ethic of egalitarian fellowship, but avoids explicit concern with women's creative work; the extent to which contemporary debates among socialists prompted him to develop a considered defense of women's right to sexual autonomy; and, finally, the confluence of these two achievements in a partial elision of gender stereotypes, which may be found in his more political prose romances.

Morris's essays on art and socialism, written between 1877 and his death in 1896, advocate a radical transformation of art and economy, and are among the most original achievements of his political and literary maturity. Their understated but fervent appeals for the autonomy and the beauty of creative labor are both lyric and conversational. At their best, they achieve a rare convergence of poetic sensibility and political exhortation, and create an unpretentious fellowship of speaker and audience which is seldom present in the work of Carlyle, Arnold, and Ruskin. Morris's appeals for communal ownership of nature and history thus contrast sharply with what George P. Landow has called the “elegant jeremia[d]s” of Victorian exhortatory prose.2 Like the writings of his predecessors, Morris's secular sermons move from analysis to prophecy; but they exhort to revolution in direct and personal ways, and require no apocalyptic declamations: “When our opponents say, as they sometimes do, How should we be able to procure the luxuries of life in a Socialist society? answer boldly, We could not do so, and we don’t care, for we don’t want them and won’t have them; and indeed, I feel sure that we cannot if we are all free men together. … Alas! my friends, these are the fools who are our masters now. The masters of fools then, you say? Yes, so it is; let us cease to be fools then, and they will be our masters no longer.”3 Morris was not considered a charismatic speaker, but the written versions of his speeches to working- and middle-class audiences are remarkably effective. He readily forwent the more erudite critical allusions for which Pater and Ruskin are now remembered, and replaced them with direct references to political controversies and contemporary events, praise of “lesser” art(s) and social action, and direct appeals to personal experience: “A man who notices the external forms of things much nowadays must suffer in South Lancashire or London, must live in a state of perpetual combat and anger; and he really must try to blunt his sensibility, or he will go mad, or kill some obnoxious person and be hanged for it.”4

One ironic consequence of Morris's impassioned but straightforward tone, fondness for simple words of Saxon origin, and desire to establish a direct tie with his audience is that he uses the word “man” and its derivatives more often than any other major Victorian essayist:

Art is man's expression of his joy in labour.

… works of art, the beauty which man creates when he is most a man, most aspiring and thoughtful. …

… a man must have time for serious individual thought, for imagination—for dreaming even—or the race of men will inevitably worsen.5

There are depressingly few direct references to women in these essays, and many of his eloquent pleas for action sound all too much like Wordsworth's “man speaking to men.” The same applies to the essays' allusions to virtually all forms of “useful work”:

during all this period the unit of labour was an intelligent man. Time was when … imagination and fancy mingled with all things made by man, and in those days all handicraftsmen were artists, as we should now call them. But the thought of man became more intricate, more difficult to express; art grew a heavier thing to deal with, and its labour was more divided among great men, lesser men, and little men, till that art, which was once scarce more than a rest of body and soul, as the hand cast the shuttle or swung the hammer, became to some men so serious a labour, that their working lives have been one long tragedy of hope and fear, joy and trouble.6

Despite all this, Morris was the only nineteenth-century “sage” who passionately espoused “the lesser” or decorative arts, usually considered “feminine.” Moreover, his view of the relations of labor and art radically undermined many of the factitious divisions between sensual and abstract, natural and “mental,” emotional and “rational,” which feminists, ecologists, and others have since identified as sources of oppression. In a shift which paralleled a growing focus on female autonomy in his socialist literary writings, Morris's later essays on socialism become slightly more inclusive in their language. Allusions to “men” give way more often to alternative abstractions: “the family of blood-relationship would melt into that of the community and of humanity.”7 More importantly, explicit allusions to “women” become somewhat more frequent: “[T]here is an enormous mass of labour which is just merely wasted; many thousands of men and women making nothing with terrible and inhuman toil. … [Y]ou who are housekeepers know full well (as I myself do, since I have learned the useful art of cooking a dinner) how it would simplify the day's work, if the chief meals could be eaten in common.”8

It should be kept in mind that most members of the audiences for Morris's earlier speeches were workingmen—male artisans and intellectuals, for the most part. Later Socialist League audiences may well have included several women, among them his two grown daughters. More significantly, the development of Morris's own insights on art and communism in the essays may gradually have deepened his own appreciation of the range of “useful work,” and sharpened his perception of the social oppression of women. It is not coincidental, I believe, that the utopian feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman admired Morris's writings, and that some of the pastoral and artistically pleasing features of Herland resembled the environment described in News From Nowhere. She visited him in Hammersmith in 1896, shortly before his death, and remarked in her autobiography: “Gray and glorious he was, and most kind.” Of his death, she wrote: “That was a great loss to the progress of England, of the world. Fortunately he left large work, long years of giving.”9 Among the better-known nineteenth-century male “sages,” only Mill did better by women. Among late-century male novelists only Meredith, Gissing, Moore, and Hardy made comparable efforts to appreciate the demands of feminist “new women,” but they often undercut their portraits with anxiety, ambivalence, and suppressed hostility. In the world of Morris's later romances, women are sometimes “heroic,” men sometimes practice peaceful and domestic arts, and both value the “feminine” traits of a sense of beauty and kinship with the earth.

The evolution of Morris's responses to “the Woman Question” is sufficiently complex to merit a review of his public and private statements on the issue, a review which must pose several vexed, even painful questions. For example, why were Morris's initial critiques of the oppression of the worker, the corruption of imperialism, and the debasement of the arts of everyday life under capitalism so much bolder than his responses to gender hierarchy? How did a man who understood more than most members of his class the need of workers and artists for self-direction and creativity in labor fail for so long to recognize women's equal drives for creative autonomy in non-sexual realms? Why did he collaborate with Ernest Belfort Bax, a rigorous Marxist who was also a notorious antifeminist and antisuffragist? Why, above all, in 1886 did he politely decline to publish criticisms of Bax's public opposition in Commonweal to legal redress for battered spouses and children? Finally, can one discern partial resolutions of these apparent contradictions in Morris's later statements on marriage, and the language and plots of the later prose romances? Did Morris ultimately appropriate aspects of positions he had earlier, for tactical and other reasons, slighted or ignored?

As feminist students of the period are well aware, few of Morris's predecessors and contemporaries among Victorian critics—Arnold in Culture and Anarchy, Newman in The Idea of the University, Carlyle in Past and Present, even Pater in The Renaissance—had anything searching, or even anything at all, to say on the nature or role of women, or on the structure of the Victorian family. Ruskin, for example, dealt harshly with the aspirations of actual contemporary women (“Of Queen's Garden's,” 1865), despite his nostalgic admiration for mythic goddesses and female medieval saints. The only exceptions to this patriarchal front were John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor, whose essay On The Subjection of Women (1869) was unique for its advocacy of egalitarian marriage and women's intellectual autonomy. Morris would thus have found no feminist precedents in the two “sages”—Carlyle and Ruskin—whose work otherwise influenced him most, and his evolving views of family structure and women's rights to sexual choice drew on two other sources. The troubles of his own marriage, first, prompted in him a surprising measure of self-awareness and empathy with his wife's dissatisfaction, and by the 1870s inspired reflections on the need to regulate sexual unions entirely by mutual consent. When he later “became a Socialist” in the 1880s, Morris also encountered debates within the movement about the nature of ideal family life under socialism which confirmed this initial response. Which features of the contemporary Victorian family were the regressive results of capitalist oppression, socialists asked, and which would survive as natural reflections of liberated human behavior?

In 1884, Friedrich Engels published Der Ursprung der Familie, des Privateigenthums und des Staats (The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State), the first Marxist-feminist treatise by a member of the Social Democratic Federation.10 In April of the following year, Commonweal carried Eleanor Marx's review of August Bebel's treatise on Woman Under Socialism, and in April 1886, it published Bax's virulent counterattack on the campaign for women's suffrage, “woman-lovers,” and feminists. Four years later, after Bax's resignation from the Socialist League, Morris printed in Commonweal (April 1890) his best-known and most eloquent statements on marriage, which later became chapter 9 of News From Nowhere.

During his time as a founder and sustainer of the Socialist League, Morris also worked with contemporary activists such as Helen Taylor (daughter of Harriet Taylor), Annie Besant, Charlotte Wilson, Eleanor Marx, and other, now-lesser-known figures such as Lena Wardle, and his own daughter May Morris; he also met the valiant French anarchist Louise Michel, and entertained the American anarchist Emma Lazarus.11 From time to time he was inevitably called on to mediate disputes as editor of Commonweal, state his views on the “woman question,” and serve as a buffer between Bax and other members of the League. Morris also coauthored public manifestos which expounded his own and Socialist League views on the bourgeois and socialist family.

Throughout this period, Morris's most conspicuous socialist-feminist conviction was his firm, even impassioned support for women's right of sexual choice. The model of the ideal family remained for him that of a man, a woman, and their offspring—a heterosexual nuclear family—and he did not foresee any extensive changes in the conventional divisions of everyday labor, or assume that married women would want or need to work at most nondomestic tasks, other than weaving (which he held in high respect and practiced extensively himself). Nor, as an essentially anti- or nonparliamentary socialist, was he much interested in which sex had the right to elect members to a “bourgeois” parliament. Personally a very affectionate father, he largely ignored in his writings issues of childcare and parental responsibility which might arise when marriages dissolved, and seems to have assumed that most women naturally wished to care for their own and others' children. He apparently believed that the different circumstances of the sexes—above all, the supposed female “dependence” resulting from pregnancy—would persist, and that many existing economic and social distinctions would inevitably persist along with them.

Most damagingly, as I have remarked, he also seems to have muted League debates in the mid-1880’s to accommodate the sensibilities of his overwrought collaborator—in part, perhaps, in a misguided appreciation of Bax's usefulness as a rare early “theorist” of English-language Marxism, and in part from a sense that Bax's views were simply exaggerated expressions of opinions still dominant among Commonweal's male socialist readers. Finally, as editor of the League's newspaper and its chief financial supporter, he clearly wished to avoid factional quarrels that would distract members from more bitter and inclusive problems of poverty (not least of women), and class oppression. None of these motives, however, fully exonerates him.

Despite his apparent condonation of Bax's behavior, and despite his relative detachment from an emerging struggle which later engaged the wholehearted efforts of Keir Hardie and Richard Pethick Lawrence, among others, Morris remained notable among the better-known nineteenth-century male “sages” (again, save only Mill) for the complete absence of casual sexism from his speeches, essays, and private writings. Something stoically irenic and basically equable in him, something related to his refusal to blame or stereotype entire classes of people, helped ensure that none of his published statements ever ascribed inferiority to female nature, or relegated women to any of the social roles he condemned.

In view of Morris and Bax's markedly divergent views on sexual and women's issues, as well as the controversies over this issue within the Socialist League, it is not surprising that the assertions about bourgeois marriage and the family in their jointly authored editions of the League's “Manifesto” were carefully qualified. The first edition of the “Manifesto,” for example, which appeared in January 1885, simply followed Engels's Origin of the Family in blaming capitalism for “venal prostitution” and the property relations of bourgeois marriage. “Our modern bourgeois property-marriage, maintained as it is by its necessary complement, universal venal prostitution, would give place to kindly and human relations between the sexes.”12 The phrase “kindly and human relations” is distinctly Morrisian, but the statement as a whole obviously avoids serious questions of equality and social justice. Should women not have equal access to jobs and remuneration? Should not new forms of mutual sexual contract or promises of fidelity be advocated in the new society, and if so, how should they be enforced? Should socialists endorse reforms—inevitably partial and piecemeal—of existing marriage laws, and support demands for women's suffrage for elections to the “bourgeois” parliament? Most potentially controversial in its implications then and now: How should childcare duties be apportioned? Most socialists would have agreed with the “Manifesto's” truistic statement as it was first worded, including advocates of “free love”; antifeminists such as Bax, who actively opposed women's suffrage and thought “bourgeois marriage” oppressed males; feminists eager to end child prostitution and domestic abuse; communalists who advocated cooperative domestic and childcare arrangements; and even “moderate” social-democrats who chiefly wished for continuation of the nuclear family structure under somewhat liberalized divorce laws.

One critical respondent to this minimal statement seems to have been the twenty-nine year old recent convert to Fabianism, G. B. Shaw, whose essay “The Future of Marriage” Morris politely declined to publish in the April 1885 Commonweal.13 The contents of Shaw's essay are not known, but if consistent with his statements on marriage shortly thereafter, they likely included an attack on female wage slavery, as well as an ironic defense of both marriage and prostitution as equally venal forms of socially imposed, female self-barter.14 Morris's reason for rejecting “the very clever paper which you have kindly sent us” is ambiguously worded: “I should like things altered in your article which I am afraid would take the spirit out of it, and it is too good to spoil.”15 Interpreting Shaw's views as opposed to the basic claims of the “Manifesto,” he also notes dryly that “We can hardly attack our own manifesto for instance: also we could not agree that Socialists ought to leave the marriage question alone.”16

In the rest of his scrupulous response to Shaw (who many years later wrote one of Morris's better-known memorials), Morris also suggested that some vestiges of current marriage law would be needed to protect widows and orphans—a matter on which he felt strongly, as the devoted father of a daughter subject to uncontrolled seizures. That his essentially protectionist views persist can be inferred from the lack of any direct criticism of sex-segregation by occupation, and his tacit acceptance of conventional family structures:

there are points about the bearing of the present marriage laws, or inheritance laws which to my mind rather damage your point of view. Of course I agree that abolishing wedlock while the present economical slavery lasts would be futile: nor do I consider a man a socialist at all who is not prepared to admit the equality of women as far as condition goes. Also that as long as women are compelled to marry for a livelihood real marriage is a rare exception and prostitution or a kind of legalized rape the rule. … I think we of the S. L. must before long state our views on wedlock quite plainly and take the consequences, which I admit are likely to be serious: but I think we had better leave the subject alone till we can pluck up heart to explain the ambiguities of our sentence in the manifesto.17

Morris's notion of “condition” went “farther” before his death, but its limitations here are obvious.18

Others associated with the League may also have found the marriage plank of the “Manifesto” superficial and truistic. For the same issue of Commonweal in which Shaw's article did not appear, Morris accepted Eleanor Marx's praiseful review of August Bebel's Woman Under Socialism, as an expanded version of which, coauthored with Edward Aveling and retitled The Woman Question, became the first Marxist-feminist treatise originally written in English.19

The League also published a second, annotated edition of Morris and Bax's “Manifesto” in October of that year, and it included this time a slightly expanded statement about marriage: “Under a Socialistic system contracts between individuals would be voluntary and unenforced by the community. This would apply to the marriage contract as well as others, and it would become a matter of simple inclination. Women also would share in the certainty of livelihood which would be the lot of all; and children would be treated from their birth as members of the community entitled to share in all its advantages; so that economical compulsion could be no more brought to bear on the contract than legal compulsion could be.”20 Future socialists would thus not be bound by marriage laws, and women and children would “share in the certainty of livelihood”; whether this might ever mean equality of livelihood, or of access to desirable occupations, remained once again in suspension. Fulfillment of the desire to work and create is one of the deepest human desires, of course, as Morris—one of his century's chief proponents of creativity in labor—knew full well. The statement in the second edition of the “Manifesto” still avoided explicit commitment on most of the deepest issues of the woman question.

Six months later, Bax's vitriolic assault “Some Bourgeois Idols; or, Ideals, Reals and Shams,” appeared as the lead article in Commonweal for April 1886. Bax's attacks on such “idols” as “Liberty” (defined as laissez-faire market conditions) and the “rights of property” were commonplace enough, at least in Commonweal.21 But his long invective against the “idol” of “equality between the sexes” exhibited a gratuitous truculence (almost) all his own. Most offensively, he expressed his “socialist” dissatisfaction with recent legislative efforts to proscribe marital nonsupport, and wife- and childbattering:22

[T]he cry for “equality between the sexes” has in the course of its realisation become a sham, masking a de facto inequality. The inequality in question presses, as usual, heaviest upon the workingman, whose wife to all intents and purposes has him completely in her power. … let him but raise a finger in a moment of exasperation, against this precious representative of the sacred principle of “womanhood,” and straightway he is consigned to the treadmill for his six months amid the jubilation of the D[aily] T[imes].

Again, we have the same principle illustrated in the truly bestial howl raised every now and again by certain persons for the infliction of the punishment of flogging on men for particular offenses, notably “assaults on women and children.” As a matter of fact in the worst cases of cruelty to children, women are the criminals.23

Bax, in his own “bestial howl,” may have had in mind several changes in British marriage law during the previous two decades; for example, mothers of young children had recently gained the right to marital separation in cases of repeated child assault by fathers.24 Against a background of widespread proletarian alcoholism and family violence, and then-recent revelations about the existence of child brothels, Bax's opposition to “bourgeois” restraints on domestic violence remains essentially incomprehensible.25 He concluded his screed with a characterization of women's suffrage as “the handing over of the complete control of the state to one sex,” and the exaltation of “the female sex into a quasi-privileged class.”26

Weary historians who have also glanced at Bax's later compilation of his views in The Fraud of Feminism (1913) will realize that these outbursts are in fact relatively moderate for him. Absent from the Commonweal article are several charges he later made about women's alleged genetic inferiority, mental imbalance, and unfitness for professional or skilled occupations.27 It is a bitter fact that the most well-read advocate of German Marxism in the English socialist movement of the late 1880s (other than Engels himself) was a vituperative antifeminist bigot. Even Bax's more moderate tone on other issues in most of his articles is so much at variance with that of the coauthored Socialism: Its Growth and Outcome as to suggest that Morris may have been even more responsible for the latter's content than has generally been acknowledged.28

In any case, what remains most disturbing is Bax's fear that men who committed the ostensibly venial offense of “lifting a finger” “in a moment of exasperation” against wives or children might suffer punishment for their actions. Suffrage for either sex was often dismissed as a reformist goal by the more antiparliamentarian members of the Socialist League. But no one in the League other than Bax ever publicly attempted to vindicate domestic assault or brutality on any grounds. Morris's anxiety to maintain an uneasy peace must be understood in the context of internal Socialist League politics: Bax's loyal support of Morris's departure from the Social Democratic Federation (S.D.F.) in reaction to Henry Hyndman's secretive and authoritarian policies; Engels's personal coolness to Morris; the role of Engels, Marx-Aveling, and Aveling as leaders of the opposition parliamentary faction of the Socialist League; Morris's distaste for the dishonest and philandering Aveling; and the generally acknowledged usefulness of Bax's other contributions to Commonweal.

At least two readers of Commonweal, however, wrote to protest Bax's views; both apparently criticized his attacks on parents' right to educate their own children, and his bizarre assertions of women's supposed dominance in marriage under British law. One of these respondents was the Reverend William Sharman, who apparently solicited in his letter Morris's personal views on education and the family. In his reply, Morris writes that children “have as much need for the revolution as the proletarians have,” but then continues, in an attempt to palliate Bax's outburst: “As to the woman matter, I do not think Bax puts it unreasonably in his article, though I have heard him exaggerate that in talk and have often fallen foul of him.”29 Bruce Glasier, who later married his Glaswegian fellow-lecturer, Katharine Conroy, sent the other, apparently more urgent rebuttal of Bax's views, and Morris deflected Glasier's criticisms of Bax on partly “tactical” grounds:30

I am not quite sure that it would be wise to put it in as it would be cutting the dam of the waters of controversy: since of course Bax must be allowed reply: I will consult with him next Wednesday and do you please consider the matter yourself. … Again as to the woman-matter, it seems to me that there is more to be said on Bax's side than you suppose. For my part being a male-man I naturally think more of the female-man than I do of my own sex: but you must not forget that child-bearing makes women inferior to men, since a certain time of their lives they must be dependent on them. Of course we must claim absolute equality of condition between women and men, as between other groups, but it would be poor economy setting women to do men's work (as unluckily they often do now) or vice versa.31

Taken together, these letters represent the nadir of Morris's protectionism, and of his desire to patch together the obvious divisions within the Socialist League. Even as he argues his own more benign views on marriage with Sharman, he tries unsuccessfully to palliate the painful implications of his splenetic friend's opinions on patriarchal dominance. Exactly because he had “often fallen foul” on these matters with Bax, Morris also realized all too well, as Sharman and Glasier probably did not, that the latter's bigoted public views were an expurgated, toned-down version of his private ones, and not amenable to reasoned discussion.

Characteristically, Morris's remark to Glasier about the effects of (multiple) pregnancies also reverses without comment Bax's assertion that women already benefit from too much protection. It is undeniable that many Victorian women, middle- and upper- as well as lower-class, bore child after child until they were exhausted, but William Morris and his wife Jane (for example) had only two children, as did his closest friends Georgiana and Edward Burne-Jones. Bax's remarks had not even addressed the issue of women's appropriate roles and needs; but Morris's attempt to consider them here were misleading and inadequate.

The only other recorded private statement by Morris that bears indirectly on the issue of women's roles may be a casual attempt at conventional role reversal and wry humor. In a September 1888 letter to James Mavor of Glasgow, Morris mentions his correspondence with a bookbinder, Cedric Chivers: “I will see if I can hear of anyone to help in his work; a boy would be easier to find than a girl; women as a rule are very feeble on the artistic side; their line is business and mathematics.”32 Morris's idealized representations of women, of course, often showed them weaving, and several women had already become rather successful as bookbinders and bookcover embroiderers by this period. Some, moreover—such as Catherine Holiday and Kate Faulkner (the sister of the mathematician Charles Faulkner, Morris's lifelong friend)—had executed commissions for Morris and Company for many years.33 Morris's apparent tongue-in-cheek inversion of gender-stereotypes is his only recorded effort along these lines.34

In the summer of 1888, at any rate, Bax rejoined the S. D. F., and ceased thereafter to exert any influence on Commonweal.35 Morris may well have been dissatisfied with the evasive ambiguity of their carefully calculated joint statements on familial and sexual relations, however, and less than proud as well of his uneasy defense of Bax's polemic. When he returned to the task of projecting an ideal society in News From Nowhere (1890), in any case, Morris made equity of sexual behavior and flexibility of family ties one of the principal subjects of two of the book's chapters (9 and 24).36 Significant parts of the river-journey plot turn on two instances of female freedom: Clara's return to her former partner Dick, and Ellen's exploration of new regions with the visiting Guest. Morris also depicts Nowhereian women in a variety of exemplary roles, most traditional, but a few mildly innovative. In his earlier writings, Morris had already presented women of compelling psychological depth—Guenevere, Jehane, Psyche, Gudrun, Philonoë—but News from Nowhere is the first major English utopian work by a man which confers the role of wisdom figure or “sage” on a woman. Ellen expresses the book's deepest insights on the meaning and use of history, the distinctive qualities of the new society, and the means by which members of Guest's society will have to strive toward it.

Advocacy of female sexual autonomy as a socialist ideal had already appeared, in fact, in Morris's narrative poem “The Pilgrims of Hope,” a tribute to the Paris Commune serialized in Commonweal from April 1885 to June 1886 (a series of issues which included the articles of both Eleanor Marx and Bax). The principal narrator of “Pilgrims” accepts his wife's preference for their mutual comrade, Arthur, and all three struggle together on the barricades of the Commune, where the wife dies in an unsuccessful effort to save the stricken Arthur. Recovered from his own wounds, the husband then manages to escape Paris and return to England, where he honors his wife's memory, raises their son, and continues to work for the cause. The wife's estrangement is not condemned, and the husband's communist beliefs are tested not only on the barricades, but also by the more difficult task of accepting his wife's rejection as he preserves their shared ideals. The poem's strength and originality also derive from a long passage in which the wife addresses the infant son who will never know her, as well as the poignancy of the husband's introspective attempts to understand and accept his wife's decision.37 The socialist marriage plot in “The Pilgrims of Hope” has often been criticized as irrelevant to its political themes; it is not irrelevant, but it is virtually unique in the annals of British socialist literature, and remarkable for a male socialist of Morris's period.

In News from Nowhere, by contrast, Dick and Clara's marital estrangement eventuates in a mutually gratifying reconciliation, and the entire episode is a subplot of Guest's central journey downstream and his encounters with Dick, Old Hammond, and Ellen. The reunion of Dick and Clara gives Morris a chance to elaborate more fully his views of sexual equity and autonomy, and to contrast pointedly the behavior of Nowhereians with the inequities in the divorce laws of his own time—principally, their heavy penalties for female adultery, dictated by what Eleanor Marx had called “one code of morals for man and one for woman.”38

In chapter 9 of News from Nowhere, “Concerning Love,” Guest learns from Old Hammond that his guide Dick hopes to be reunited with his former wife Clara, who had deserted him for another man, and now seeks reconciliation. Guest is somewhat surprised that she has suffered no legal or social penalties, and learns that the couple's children have remained with one of Hammond's daughters, “where, indeed, Clara has mostly been.39 Patiently, Hammond explains to Guest the need to distinguish “natural passion” and “friendship,” and both from possessiveness: “We know that we must face the unhappiness that comes of man and woman confusing the relations between natural passion, and sentiment, and the friendship which, when things go well, softens the awakening from passing illusions: but we are not so mad as to pile up degradation on that unhappiness by engaging in sordid squabbles about livelihood and position, and the power of tyrannising over the children who have been the result of love or lust” (57). It still remains conspicuous in Nowhere that (most) women “naturally” gather round to offer hospitality and care for children (as when Clara and her daughter move in with old Hammond's daughter), and that women still tend to raise their own offspring. However, Morris's descriptions of Nowhereian children's education also embody his assumption that childrearing will become an activity of natural interest to all adults, and he makes it clear that male egotism and impulses toward revenge, not parental irresponsibility, are the principal social evils to be feared when marriages dissolve: “So it is a point of honour with us not to be self-centred; not to suppose that the world must cease because one man is sorry; therefore we should think it foolish, or if you will, criminal, to exaggerate these matters of sentiment and sensibility: we are no more inclined to eke out our sentimental sorrows than to cherish our bodily pains; and we recognise that there are other pleasures besides love-making” (58). In chapter 24, Dick and Walter also recount the story of a man who has attacked his more successful rival in love and been killed himself in the ensuing struggle. Both the slayer and the woman involved are deeply depressed after the event, but no legal punishment is imposed on them; Nowhereians have no prisons, and in any case the man had not sought the quarrel.

It is characteristic of Morris, by the way, that both of these stories involve a woman who is sought by two men; his writings contain relatively few instances in which men desert women, or in which two women love the same man.40 More generally, the social structure of Nowhere also exemplifies once again the essentially traditional nature of Morris's assumptions about (hetero)sexual ties. Nowhere offers no instances of homosexual unions, adoptive families, group marriages, or even casually promiscuous men and women. Morris clearly assumes an ethic of male attachment, and hopes an extended social family will cooperate in childrearing when disintegration of a family unit becomes inevitable. It remains unclear how he would have interpreted or accommodated widespread paternal desertion of wives and infant children, much less abandonment of the latter by the former, but in fairness to Morris it should be observed that he was hardly alone in this. All contemporary socialists advocated dissolution of ties by mutual consent, but virtually no one—including most of the heroic figures of British and American feminism—envisioned a world in which men shared equally in child care, or in which deserted fathers patiently raised infant children. Eleanor Marx, for example, quoted with approval Bebel's inadvertently revealing description of the independent woman, whose “household and children, if she has any, cannot restrict her freedom, but only increase her pleasure in life. Educators, friends, young girls, are all at hand for all cases in which she needs help.”41 Only death seems to confer the responsibility (or privilege) of childrearing on men, as it does on the hero of “Pilgrims of Hope.”

Nowhere's reunion of Dick and Clara also recalls the painful emotions of Morris's own marriage; like Clara, Jane Morris had often absented herself from him and their children. Clara is the only figure in the book who responds nostalgically to a Pre-Raphaelite view of women as proper objects of romance. She is described sympathetically, but she clearly has restless impulses which may recall the egocentric pleasures of the hated nineteenth century. When Ellen's grandfather, for example, conjectures that, after all, the society of the nineteenth century may have been preferable to their own, Dick looks uncomfortable and Ellen bursts out in impatient disagreement, but Guest notes that “Clara listened to him with restless eyes, as if she were excited and pleased” (150). When other Nowhereians suggest that art should reflect the strangeness of past history, Clara protests forthrightly, “Well, for my part … I wish we were interesting enough to be written or painted about” (103). (Ironically, of course, her wish is granted: they are.)

Other critics have already noted the degree to which Nowhereians continue the role segregation of Morris's own century (and to a depressing extent, ours): the men serve as guides and row the women downstream; at guesthouses women wait on men who sit at tables; sundry novelists and historians, encountered along the way, are all male; men mow hay in the fields during harvest, while the women gather to watch.42 Among the justifications given for this division of labor is the ambiguous assertion that: “The women do what they can do best, and what they like best, and the men are neither jealous of it or injured by it” (59). There is one lone but striking exception to these stereotyped roles, however: Philippa, chief carver (sculptor) among “the obstinate refusers” who prefer housebuilding to haymaking, is quite possibly an allusion to Philippa Fawcett, who earlier in the year of Nowhere's publication had placed above the Senior Wrangler in the Cambridge mathematics tripos.43 The Nowhereian Philippa is a forty-year-old mother of a sixteen-year-old apprentice-carver, and the only female single parent and working mother in the entire book. Since decoration of public buildings would be a primary concern of the new society (according, for example, to “Socialism Triumphant”), Philippa's occupation is highly honorific in Nowhereian terms.44 In his writings, moreover, Morris often imagines women at work at solitary artistic tasks, and at what he called “administration”: “there are many, like the housekeepers I was speaking of, whose delight is in administration and organisation, to use long-tailed words; I mean people who like keeping things together, avoiding waste, seeing that nothing sticks fast uselessly” (84). Nowhere is devoid of political rulers and warriors, of course, so an absence of female “political leaders” is tautological. But it should also be observed that the women of the later prose romances, though assertive and geographically mobile, never fill whatever positions of military and political leadership are to be had.

In short, the essential traditionalism of Morris's (widely shared) assumptions about the “natural” division of sexual roles, even in Nowhere, undercuts somewhat the appealing implications of his own espousal of “women's” work, but he remained strikingly distinctive among end-of-century socialists in the straightforwardness and sincerity of his insistence that no legal or social coercion should constrain a woman's choices of sexual partner and parental role.

There is, moreover, one sturdy token counterexample in Nowhere to the prevailing pattern of Morris's portrayals of women, and her contribution is highly valued. Two of the utopia's more astute inhabitants mediate for Guest the nature of the utopian future with special care: one of these “wisdom figures,” predictably, is an old man; but the other is Ellen, a young woman. Halfway through the book, the historian Old Hammond recounts to Guest the changes which led to the greater “Change,” and sketches the beginnings of the new order which followed. Later, Ellen travels downriver with Guest, and in the course of their conversations comes to represent to him the transformed life in its most self-consciously reflective form. Learned old sages and handsome young women are stock Victorian figures, of course, but it is Ellen's “sagacity”—her ability to relive and interpret history—which becomes most valuable to Guest as he struggles to find a way to express the new society's wisdom to the members of his own.

Other inhabitants of Nowhere have already presented their historical opinions earlier in the book: not only the history-buff Old Hammond, but also Dick, Boffin, Clara, and Ellen's grandfather have all tried in their ways to sort out with Guest the respective merits of the past and the new society. The commonplace criticism that Nowhereians are ahistorical, which takes literally Dick's claim of facile antiintellectualism, is a mistake. Even Dick respects what Morris considered authentic popular history—the commemoration of folk ways and lore, and love of the beautiful artifacts and skills of the past. But it is Ellen (the Helen of the new world) who anticipates Santayana, as she states the narrative's most eloquent endorsement of the power of history: “I think sometimes people are too careless of the history of the past—too apt to leave it in the hands of old learned men like Hammond. Who knows? Happy as we are, times may alter; we may be bitten with some impulse towards change, and many things may seem too wonderful for us to resist, too exciting not to catch at, if we do not know that they are but phases of what has been before; and withal ruinous, deceitful, and sordid” (194).

The most perceptive Nowhereians are also distinguished by their awareness of the miseries that past societies inflicted on their citizens. Ellen, for example, expresses Morris's own view of the narrow class bias of most Victorian fiction.45 “Some … [nineteenth-century books], indeed, do here and there show some feeling for those whom the history-books call ‘poor,’ and of the misery of whose lives we have some inkling; but presently they give it up, and towards the end of the story we must be contented to see the hero and heroine living happily in an island of bliss on other people's troubles” (151). Ellen also understands very well what her daily life might have been like under capitalism, at its “best” as well as its worst, and her indictment is a set piece of Morris's socialist-feminism: “my beauty and cleverness and brightness … would have been sold to rich men, and my life would have been wasted indeed; … I should have had no choice, no power of will over my life … I should never have bought pleasure from the rich men, and even opportunity of action, whereby I might have won some true excitement. I should have been wrecked and wasted in one way or another, either by penury or by luxury” (204). Here also, for the first time in his writings, Morris identifies explicitly “opportunity of action” as a natural female goal.

Inevitably, of course, Ellen also bears witness to some of the conventional limitations of Morris's ideal. She has little impulse to travel, unlike Guest, and the youthful Morris himself (“I must say that I don’t like moving about from one home to another; one gets so pleasantly used to all the detail of the life about one” [190]), and she wants an indefinite number of children (“I shall have children; perhaps before the end a good many—I hope so” [194]).46 Her desire for children is reflective as well as straightforward, however: she thinks through her hopes for these potential children, as does the wife in “Pilgrims of Hope,” and yearns to transmit to them her own efforts at empathy and understanding, and those of the people who have gone before them: “[T]hough of course I cannot force any special kind of knowledge upon them, yet, my friend, I cannot help thinking that just as they might be like me in body, so I might impress upon them some part of my ways of thinking; that is, indeed, some of the essential part of myself; that part which was not mere moods, created by the matters and events round about me. What do you think?” (194).

Not since his creation of the Guenevere of The Defence, moreover, had Morris taken such care to imagine a woman's consciousness from within; by comparison, even Oenone and Gudrun of his middle period are embodiments of passionate intensity externally observed. Above all, none of Morris's female heroes before Ellen can credibly be described as a “sage.” She is News from Nowhere's truest wisdom figure, not a distant erotic ideal, but the embodiment of Morris's self-conscious hope for future generations. Not all of Morris's later women are “new women,” but his imagination is capable of dwelling with sympathy on a few exemplars, of which Ellen is the most convincing. As the work's most perceptive interpretant of the new society, and an active, unrepressed woman who desires to transmit her physical and cultural identity to future generations, Ellen embodies the limitations as well as the strengths of Morris's socialist-feminism, but she alone in Nowhere fully practices Morris's deepest ideal of popular, living history; and she alone is the spokeswoman of the book's finest insights into the spirit of the new society.

At the end of News from Nowhere, a journey to the church at the upper waters of the Thames becomes a kind of secular passage to the new Jerusalem. Ellen is the Christ-figure who leads Guest to the book's final meal, and leaves him tenderly with a final consolation—another great set piece, and one of Morris's most heartfelt declarations of the beauty of earth, “feminine” and universal: “She led me up close to the house, and laid her shapely sun browned hand and arm on the lichened wall as if to embrace it, and cried out, “O me! O me! How I love the earth, and the seasons, and weather, and all things that deal with it, and all that grows out of it—as this has done!” (201). Ellen's brief epiphany has often been quoted for the beauty of its invocation of a socialist ideal. It is that. But it is also Morris's best and most sustained effort to imagine how an egalitarian society might alter the thoughts and inner consciousness of its women.


  1. Several other authors have discussed Morris's views of women, among them Norman Talbot, “Women and Goddesses in the Romances of William Morris,” Southern Review (Adelaide), 3 (1969): 339-357; Carole Silver, “Myth and Ritual in the Last Romances of William Morris,” in Studies in the Late Romances of William Morris: Papers Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Modern Language Association, December 1975, ed. Carole Silver and Joseph R. Dunlap (New York: William Morris Society, 1976) 117-139; Carole Silver, “Socialism Internalized: The Last Romances of William Morris,” in Socialism and the Literary Artistry of William Morris, ed. Florence S. Boos and Carole Silver (Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press, 1990) 117-126; John Moore “The Vision of the Feminine in William Morris's Water of the Wondrous Isles,Pre-Raphaelite Review 3 (1980): 58-85; Norman Kelvin, “The Erotic in News from Nowhere and The Well at the World's End,” in Studies in the Late Romances, 97-114; Florence S. Boos, “Sexual Polarization in William Morris' The Defence of Guenevere,Browning Institute Studies 13 (1985): 181-200; and Florence S. Boos, “Justice and Vindication in ‘The Defence of Guenevere,’” in King Arthur Through the Ages, ed. Valerie M. Lagorio and Mildred L. Day, vol. 2 (Garland: New York and London, 1990), 83-104. See also Charlotte Oberg, “The Female Principle,” ch. 3 of William Morris: The Pagan Prophet (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1978), 53-70.

  2. George P. Landow, Elegant Jeremiahs: The Sage from Carlyle to Mailer (Ithaca N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1986), 28-29. Of the major Victorian essayists, however, only Carlyle and, to a lesser degree, Ruskin, arguably satisfy most of Landow's seven-part characterization of the Victorian sage. Morris, for example, never attacks his audience (the second of Landow's characteristics); or dilates on “grotesque contemporary phenomena, such as the murder of children” (the fifth). Morris's essays do alternate between evocations of present evils and the suggestion of possible alternatives, but their patterns of description, invocation, and personal response are basically congruent with the conversational manner of the essays. They do not concentrate on “apparently trivial phenomena as the subject of interpretation” (characteristic three); and they are not noticeably “episodic or discontinuous” (characteristic four).

  3. Morris, “The Society of the Future,” in Artist, Writer, Socialist, ed. May Morris, 2 vols. (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1936), 2: 459,468. Henceforth abbreviated as AWS in citations.

  4. Morris, “The Society of the Future” 2: 469.

  5. “Art Under Plutocracy,” “Useful Work Versus Useful Toil,” “Art and Socialism” in Collected Works of William Morris, ed. May Morris, 24 vols. (London: Longmans, 1910-1915), 23: 173, 103, 210. Subsequent citations from the Collected Works will be abbreviated as CW, followed by volume and page number.

  6. Morris, “Art Under Plutocracy,” “The Lesser Arts,” CW 23: 176; 22: 9.

  7. Morris, “The Society of the Future,” AWS 2: 466.

  8. Morris, “Art and Socialism,” CW 23: 195, 199. References to “Ladies” occur in “The Aims of Art” and “Art, Wealth, and Riches,” CW 23: 93, 154; to “women” in “The Aims of Art,” “The Hopes of Civilization,” “Art, Wealth, and Riches,” “Art and Socialism,” and “What Socialists Want,” CW 23: 92,72,154,204,218, and in “The Society of the Future,” “Thoughts on Education Under Capitalism” and “Under an Elm Tree,” AWS 2: 466,497,510; and to “female” in “Dawn of a New Epoch,” CW 23: 135 and “Under an Elm Tree,” AWS 2: 509.

  9. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman: An Autobiography (New York: Harper and Row, 1935), 209,212. Of May Morris she notes, “she became a dear and lasting friend” (209).

  10. Friedrich Engels, Der Ursprung (Hottingen-Zurich: Druck der Schweisenreischen Genossneschaftsbuchdruckerei, 1884); translated into English in 1902, and reprinted as The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State in the Light of the Researches of Lewis S. Morgan (New York: International Publishers, 1942). Uncompromising in his way, Engels identified the basic class oppression as that of “the female sex by the male,” found monogamy essentially corrupt, denounced social condemnation of prostitutes, and, most strikingly, asserts that “to emancipate woman and make her the equal of the man is and remains an impossibility so long as the woman is shut out from social productive labor and restricted to private domestic labor” (58,59,148).

  11. Morris to Glasier, 21 Dec. 1887, The Collected Letters of William Morris, ed. Norman Kelvin, 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984, 1987), 2: 728. Emma Lazarus visited Morris in 1883; her 1886 article, “A Day in Surrey,” is reprinted in “Leonardo of Retailing,” Gazette of the John Lewis Partnership 44 (17 March 1962): 158-160.

    An excellent examination of Morris's relations with contemporary women appears in Linda Richardson's recent essay, “Daintily Fashioned Engines of War: William Morris and Women of the Socialist Movement: A Lecture Delivered to the William Morris Society, 26th March, 1987.” Richardson studies personal influences of socialist women on Morris, and concludes for slightly different reasons that Morris's views evolved during the late 1880s. In “Engines of War” and in “Louise Michel and William Morris,” The Journal of the William Morris Society 8 (1989): 26-29, Richardson also discusses the military role of Michel and other Communard women during the siege of 1871, a role not mentioned in A Short Account of the Commune of Paris, coauthored by Morris with Bax and Victor Dave (Socialist League, London: 1886). In “The Pilgrims of Hope” (CW 24: 369-408), Morris's heroine appears on the barricades as one who bears “the brancard of the ambulance-women” (section 12).

  12. Appendix A, “The Manifesto of the Socialist League,” Letters 2: 852.

  13. Norman MacKenzie and Jeanne MacKenzie, The Fabians (New York: Simon and Shuster, 1977); 42. Shaw enrolled as a Fabian in September 1884.

  14. See George Bernard Shaw, The Quintessence of Ibsenism (London: Walter Scott, 1891), and the “Preface” to Mrs. Warren's Profession (London: Grant Richards, 1902).

  15. Morris to Shaw, 18 March 1885, Letters of Morris 2: 404.

  16. In substance, Shaw's views on marriage during the mid-to-late eighties and early nineties embodied his own idiosyncratic brand of anti-“social purity” arguments, but they also called for wage equality (dismissed by some socialists as a reformist demand of the middle-class “new woman”) and a complete abolition of laws governing cohabitation. In an ironic echo of Bax's position, Shaw considered contemporary marriage laws crucial in binding men to women: as he later wrote to Ellen Terry on 2 July 1897, “Marriage is not the man's hold on the woman, but the woman's on the man (“The Collected Letters of George Bernard Shaw, ed. Dan H. Laurence, 2 vols. [London: Reinhardt, 1985- ]) 2: 777.

  17. Morris to Shaw, Letters of Morris 2: 404.

  18. A more serious egalitarian may also have observed that Shaw's alternately draconian and reformist position attacked the Socialist League's platform simultaneously from both right and left. He failed to address real legal grievances in the laws governing marriage, sexual violence, and child abuse, for example, and archly ignored the simple fact that distinctions between marriage and “prostitution,” however conventional, were crucial to the security and happiness of most English women and their families. He was right, however, that in the absence of the longed-for socialist revolution, crass forms of discrimination in wages, education, and occupation did matter enormously to women. Subsequent Fabian calls for their elimination pointed the way for what grudging progress has since been made.

  19. The review of Bebel's Woman under Socialism appeared in the Westminster Review in 1886, and was reprinted as Eleanor Marx-Aveling and Edward Aveling, The Woman Question (London: Swan Sonnenschein, 1887), and in Thoughts on Women and Society, ed. Joachim Muller and Edith Schotte (New York: International Publishers, 1987). Marx and Aveling's treatise, unlike many other socialist writings of the period, at least acknowledges contemporary movements on behalf of women, though it condemns them for failing to touch the deeper roots of women's oppression. Another distinction of Marx and Aveling's treatise is its demand for honesty in sexual relations and its recognition—like Morris's, remarkable for its period—of women's needs for sexual expression: “[W]e—and with us … most Socialists—contend that chastity is unhealthy and unholy. … we call to mind the accumulated medical testimony to the fact that women suffer more than men under these restraints.” Marx and Aveling here entered virtually uncharted terrain.

  20. Appendix A, “The Manifesto of the Socialist League,” Letters 2: 857.

  21. More controversial might have been his attack on “liberty of conscience,” that is, on the right to promulgate religious beliefs.

  22. Ray Strachey, “The Cause”: A Short History of the Women's Movement in Great Britain (1928; rpt. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat, 1969), 222-223. In 1878 a wife was able to secure separation, with custody of her children under ten years of age, if her husband was convicted of “aggravated assault.” In 1884 the Matrimonial Causes Act also abolished the penalty of imprisonment for denial of conjugal rights: a wife could no longer be imprisoned for leaving her husband, but she could still be forced to return.

  23. Ernest Belfort Bax, “Some Bourgeois Idols; or Ideals, Reals, and Shams,” Commonweal, April 1886, 25-26.

  24. Bax, “Bourgeois Idols,” 25-26. Bax may also be referring to debates of the preceding year over the Criminal Amendment Bill of 1885, discussed in April and May before its passage in August of 1885. Aimed at forced prostitution, the bill raised the age of consent for women from 12 to 13 (not 16, as many reformers wished), forbade the renting of premises for prostitution, and punished various forms of procurement and sexual compliance induced by the use of drugs. Women also had made some genuine gains in the previous decade. The Married Women's Property Act of 1882 permitted women to hold property as well as to keep their own earnings, and the Guardianship of Infants' Act of 1886 permitted widows for the first time to be appointed joint-guardians of their own children. Bax probably objected most strenuously to provisions of the sort embodied in the Married Women (Maintenance in Case of Desertion) Act of 1886, which enabled women to sue for maintenance before they went to the workhouse (Parliamentary Act of 25 June 1886); Bax's article appeared in April, and the law was passed later in the year.

  25. See Strachey, “The Cause” ch. 10, “The C. D. Acts, 1870, 1871,” 187-224; Glen Petrie, A Singular Iniquity: The Campaigns of Josephine Butler (London: Macmillan, 1971), 209-259.

  26. Bax, “Bourgeois Idols,” Commonweal, April 1886, 26.

  27. Ernest Belfort Bax, The Fraud of Feminism (London: Grant Richards, 1913). In ch. 2, “The Main Dogma of Modern Feminism,” for example, Bax asserts that “[W]hile man has a sex, woman is a sex. Let us hear [Otto] Weininger on this point. ‘Woman is only sexual, man is also sexual’ … the whole female organism is subservient to the functions of child-bearing and lactation, which explains the inferior development of those organs and faculties which are not specially connected with this supreme end of Woman” (27,32).

  28. Rare exceptions are Bax's unexpectedly idealistic essay on “Socialism and Religion,” reprinted in The Religion of Socialism (London: Swan Sonnenschein, 1886), and some passages from Reminiscences, for example, his recollections of Morris's antipuritanism, personal generosity, and solicitude for his friends (Reminscences and Reflexions of a Mid and Late Victorian, London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1918, 117-122).

  29. Morris to Sharman, 24-30 (?) April 1886, Letters of Morris 2: 547.

  30. See Laurence Thompson, The Enthusiasts: A Biography of John and Katharine Bruce Glasier, London: Victor Gollancz, 1971.

  31. Morris to Bruce Glasier, 24 April 1886, Letters of Morris 2: 545.

  32. Morris to Mavor, Sept. 1888, Letters of Morris 2: 824.

  33. See Anthea Callen, Angel in the Studio: Women in the Arts and Crafts Movement (London: Astragal Books, 1979).

  34. Morris's next public statement on the issue of marriage, still coauthored with Bax, was a brief one-paragraph discussion of voluntary “socialist” marriage in the final installment of “Socialism from the Root Up,” a Commonweal series of articles on socialist history and economic concepts which appeared concurrently with A Dream of John Ball from October 1886 to January 1888. Five years later, these essays reappeared in book form, slightly revised, as Socialism: Its Growth and Outcome (London: Swan Sonnenschein, 1893).

  35. Bax, Reminiscences, 82.

  36. Morris, News from Nowhere in CW 16: 52-63, 159-67.

  37. See my “Narrative Design in The Pilgrims of Hope,” in Socialism and the Literary Artistry of William Morris, 147-166.

  38. Eleanor Marx, “Supplement,” Commonweal, April 1885, 63. Not until 1923 did the Matrimonial Causes Act permit divorce to both sexes on the same grounds.

  39. Morris, CW 16:57. References to this volume will henceforth be cited in page numbers following the quotation.

  40. In the 1889 Roots of the Mountains, the Bride and Bow-may, two women-warriors, both love the male protagonist, Gold-mane, but he chooses for his wife Sun-Beam, a woman from another tribe. The plot may represent an attempt by Morris to balance earlier portrayals.

  41. Eleanor Marx, “Supplement,” 64; italics added.

  42. Morris, News from Nowhere, CW 16: 47. Also, see Sylvia Strauss, “Women in Utopia,” South Atlantic Quarterly 75 (1976): 115-131.

  43. Strachey, “The Cause,” 260. In 1890 Phillipa Fawcett's scores at Cambridge placed her above the Senior Wrangler for that year. This result was announced in June, and Morris's episode appeared in the Commonweal for September.

  44. Ernest Belfort Bax and William Morris, Socialism: Its Growth and Outcome (London: Swan Sonnenschein, 1893), ch. 21, “Socialism Triumphant,” 307-308: “Architecture, which is above all an art of association, we believe must necessarily be the art of a society of co-operation. … Sculpture, as in past times, will be considered almost entirely a part of fine building, the highest expression of the beauty which turns a utilitarian building into a great artistic production.”

  45. Cf. Morris, “The Society of the Future,” AWS 2: 465: “You see you will no longer be able to have novels relating the troubles of a middle-class couple in their struggle towards social uselessness, because the material for such literary treasures will have passed away.”

  46. Socialists were generally cool to calls for birth control prompted by Malthusian fears, believing that population growth would naturally regulate itself in a prosperous and egalitarian society. H. M. Hyndman and Morris's Summary of the Principles of Socialism (London: Modern Press, 1884) asserts that: “This foolish Malthusian craze is itself bred of our anarchical competitive system” (43). In chapter 10 of News from Nowhere, Old Hammond assures Guest that Nowhereian women have more desire for children than their nineteenth-century foremothers (62), but that “the population is pretty much the same as it was at the end of the nineteenth century” (74). Eleanor Marx and Edward Aveling's The Woman Question, by contrast, is conspicuous for a complete absence of favorable references to childbearing, childrearing, and parental roles.

Ann Ardis (essay date 1993)

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Last Updated on February 6, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5820

SOURCE: “‘The Journey from Fantasy to Politics’: The Representation of Socialism and Feminism in Gloriana and The Image-Breakers,” in Rediscovering Forgotten Radicals: British Women Writers, 1889-1939, edited by Angela Ingram and Daphne Patai, The University of North Carolina Press, 1993, pp. 43-56.

[In the following essay, Ardis evaluates the relationship between turn-of-the-century British feminism and socialism by examining the novels of Lady Florence Dixie and Gertrude Dix.]

In British Socialists: The Journey from Fantasy to Politics, Stanley Pierson describes the transformation of British socialism between 1880 and 1910 as a journey from the glorious utopian fantasies of New Life promoted by William Morris, Edward Carpenter, and Havelock Ellis to the realpolitik of early-twentieth-century Independent Labour Party (ILP) activists and Fabian socialists. The loss of a certain quality of “vision and commitment,” Pierson argues, attended British socialists' acquisition of parliamentary power, and his study traces the internal disagreements, defections, and schisms within the major socialist organizations of the period as they set out to realize abstract socialist principles.1

Pierson's characterization of British socialism's transformation at the turn of the century is apt, but at least one reason for the appropriateness of his central metaphor remains beyond the scope of his research. Although Pierson does not neglect to mention women's participation in socialist organizations at the turn of the century, he does tend to minimize the importance of the way in which “the Woman Question … moved in and out of socialist politics” during this period. Thus, as is true of so many historians of socialism, he persists in deeming women's efforts to integrate socialist and feminist politics as “tangential to [the history] of mainstream socialism.”2

While retaining Pierson's metaphor, I want to redress his notion of the relationship between socialist and feminist agendas at the turn of the century through a discussion of two novels by Lady Florence Dixie and Gertrude Dix. This essay seeks to account for two things: first, the differences between traditional labor historians' characterizations of turn-of-the-century British socialism and those of Dixie and Dix; and second, the equally notable differences between Dixie's and Dix's views. The journey to be traced here takes us from Dixie's feminist-socialist utopia in Gloriana; or, The Revolution of 1900 (1890) to the decidedly non-utopian world of Dix's The Image-Breakers (1900). And the question that powers the journey is this: why wasn’t Dix, writing in 1900, the year of Dixie's imagined revolution, able to sustain Dixie's political optimism? Why, to frame the issue more broadly, wasn’t late-nineteenth-century feminist-socialist utopianism more helpful to women writers in modeling Britain's future after the turn of the century?


The main character of Dixie's novel, Gloriana DeLara, is the illegitimate daughter of a woman who, forced to marry a rich man, eloped with her lover and then witnessed his murder by her husband. Whereas many heroines in turn-of-the-century New Woman novels are radicalized through their own experiences of gender-based oppression, Gloriana's knowledge of “all the wrongs that girls and women have to suffer” under Victorian patriarchy is her mother's legacy to her;3 however, whereas her mother has given up all hope of doing anything but raising her daughter, Gloriana is determined to change the world. Already touched by the “glowing sign of genius” at age twelve, she tells her mother in the novel's opening scene that she wants the women of the world to “rise as one” (I:6).

To lead this revolution, Gloriana notes, she must first go to Eton, which she does by assuming a male identity. Known subsequently as “Hector D’Estrange,” Gloriana achieves notoriety at Oxford for her/his writings on women's rights. She trains a legion of Amazonian “White Guards”; she helps finance and build a Hall of Liberty; and later still, as a member of Parliament, “Hector” introduces a women's suffrage bill that earns the ire of her conservative colleagues. Cross-dressing for years, she reveals her female identity only after these disgruntled members of Parliament, anxious that their political base will be altered by the success of the suffrage bill, plot to have “Hector” arrested after a public meeting. Rather than allow herself to be captured, “Hector” ends her speech by revealing herself as Gloriana and asking the working-class crowd to protect her from the soldiers skirting the demonstration.

The willingness of these working-class men and women to do so marks the turning point in the political tide of Gloriana's long-dreamed-of revolution. With the full support of the working classes now behind her, and with more and more middle-class ladies joining the cause as well, Gloriana's supporters in Parliament finally succeed in passing a bill for universal suffrage, and Gloriana is offered the prime ministership. The institutions of government remain the same after this, Britain's second and truly glorious revolution. But as is suggested by the glowing description of London with which the novel ends, both the British population and the landscape of London will be utterly transformed under Gloriana's leadership: the city that the narrator views from a hot-air balloon in 1999 is full of green parks, and we are told that no one goes hungry or without work in this new world.

To read this novel in the early 1990s is to be struck by the vast discrepancies between Dixie's utopian vision of life at the end of the twentieth century and the world we know today. But perhaps these same discrepancies can also help us identify the distinctive features of Dixie's socialist-feminist agenda for political and social reform.

First, and most important, Dixie and her protagonist are committed to the idea that women's political and economic entitlement functions as the first step toward universal entitlement. Unlike so many of her female contemporaries who became active in class politics, Dixie refuses to postpone or subordinate a revolution in gender roles to a strictly class-based agenda of social(ist) reform. In 1892 Eleanor Marx, for example, publicly argued, “We will organize—not as ‘women’ but as proletarians … for us there is nothing but the working-class movement.” Similarly, Clara Zetkin claimed in 1896, “It is not women's petty interests of the moment that we should put in the foreground … our task must be to enroll the modern proletarian woman in the class struggle.”4 By contrast, Dixie refuses to define oppression as something that can be analyzed using a hierarchically organized set of nonoverlapping categories (e.g., class first, then gender). Moreover, she does not conceive of feminism and socialism as political movements in competition with each other for supporters. Although Gloriana initially highlights the “evils” of “sex-parasitism,”5 Dixie's program of social change quickly moves beyond issues of gender to include reference to Irish Home Rule, Britain's treatment of its colonial subjects, and animal rights, as well as the condition of labor in England itself.

The inclusiveness of this political vision suggests that Dixie is recuperating some of the ideals of early-nineteenth-century British Owenite socialism. As Barbara Taylor has shown in Eve and the New Jerusalem, the Owenites viewed female freedom as a useful index of the wider struggle for human liberation. Notwithstanding the Owenites' importance in the late 1820s and 1830s, however, their “‘stupendously grand’ vision of a communist-feminist society” was dismissed by British socialists in the 1880s. Arguing that the “‘fantastic’ dreams of the early socialists were ‘foredoomed’ to failure … because they were based merely on an optimism of the will rather than a ‘scientific’ assessment of the historical balance of class forces,” Marx and Engels introduced a “new set of conceptual tools” into socialist theory in the 1890s, tools that evacuated sexism from the socialist agenda by reducing it to a problem of bourgeois property relations.6

Dixie, however, refuses to follow Marx and Engels's lead in this regard. Instead, she proposes an agenda for British socialism in the 1890s that restores part of what was lost when the Owenites were dismissed as crude idealists: in Gloriana, feminism once again plays a key role in a radical agenda for political, economic, and social reform. Women's entitlement, in Dixie's view, is the crucial opening gambit in a long series of reforms that will ultimately result in “the comfort … and happiness of the toiling millions” (1:182). In other words, feminism isn’t about the “petty interests” (Clara Zetkin's phrasing) of middle-class individualists; instead, Gloriana's life story shows how “self is buried” in the work of the collective (3:291).

Thus, not only are women's rights featured in Gloriana as the first step toward the economic and political entitlement of all, but middle-class women serve as catalysts in the revolution, role models for the shift from individualism to collectivism. The scene midway through the novel in which “Hector” reveals herself as Gloriana is crucial in this context because Gloriana's sense of her identification with the people's cause (in spite of her middle-class background) is substantiated here by the crowd's willingness to protect her from her enemies.7 As she watches these working-class men and women gather around her, Gloriana finds inspiration in the fact that these men—unlike her middle-class colleagues in Parliament—do not “deprecate her deeds … [or] belittle her acts, because she is a woman. Their reason tells them that she understands their wants … [and] that her great heart is in sympathy with their needs” (2:182). To her surprise and great pleasure, neither sexism nor cross-class antagonism will disrupt and fracture this newly politicized collectivity.

The loss of individual identity and absorption into the life of the collective that is so powerfully visualized in this scene exemplifies the kind of political conversion experience8 that Dixie's introduction models for her middle-class readers as well. Dedicating her work “to all … [who] will bravely assert and uphold the Laws of Justice, of Nature, and of Right” (I:vii), Dixie concludes her introduction in the following manner: “If, therefore, the following story should help one [person] to be generous and just, should awaken the sluggards among women to a sense of their Position, and should thus lead to a rapid Revolution[,] it will not have been written in vain” (I:ix-x). The New Woman novel has often been dismissed—by recent critics as well as by turn-of-the-century reviewers—for its exclusive focus on middle-class women.9 But Chris Waters's observation in this volume about the fiction of Isabella Ford and Katharine Bruce Glasier can be extended to Florence Dixie's Gloriana as well: like Ford and Glasier, Dixie expands the boundaries of socialist discourse as she seeks to convince her middle-class readers that a commitment to socialism is a viable alternative to the life of a domestic angel. By attempting to write herself into the socialist movement, by presuming to envision a socialist revolution led by a New Woman, Dixie seeks to transform the very meaning of socialism itself as she encourages middle-class women to become active in collectivist politics.

The metaphor of an awakening and the reference to the “Laws of Justice, of Nature, and of Right” in the passages cited above from Dixie's introduction exemplify the third distinctive feature of her feminist-socialist agenda: her social Darwinism, her absolute faith in the amelioration of the human condition and nature's progress through history. Nan Bowman Albinski has argued that late-nineteenth-century British women utopia writers refused to identify themselves with nature. Emphasizing the human capacity for reason “in order to dissociate themselves from the interior status of [women's] ‘natural’ roles,” they produced utopias that are “national in scope, highly urbanized and politicized, and generally limited to the public (‘male’) sphere.”10 This seems only partially accurate as a characterization of Gloriana. Although Dixie's novel does indeed make little reference to the domestic world and is national in scope, it nonetheless culminates with a vision of London as an urban environment that accommodates both humankind and nature. In other words, instead of dissociating women from nature in her utopia, Dixie seeks ultimately to restore a vital connection between the two; additionally, she views urbanization not as a process that entails the destruction of nature but as one that engineers the most ecologically sound and economically productive “fit” between human beings and the environment. Turn-of-the-century male utopia writers' visions of the future often retreat into the past, into feudal rather than futuristic characterizations of the city;11 in contrast, and more in keeping with the Kyrle Society and the Commons Preservation Society's “back-to-nature” social improvement plans, Dixie imagines the London of the future as a city where parks have replaced the infamous ghettos of the East End and where increasingly unified, committed, and purposive collective work is possible.12


Gertrude Dix challenges all three distinguishing features of Dixie's utopian vision: her happy marriage of feminism and socialism, her confidence in the middle-class woman's effectiveness as an agent of the revolution, and her social Darwinism. Rejecting Dixie's optimism about Victorian England's willingness to accept both the leadership of a New Woman and the goals of revolution, Dix, in The Image-Breakers, raises questions that Dixie does not address—perhaps even prefers to ignore. For example, how does a middle-class woman committed to socialism handle her male comrades' sexism as well as the class-based suspicions of her working-class constituents? What forces beyond her control limit her effectiveness as an activist? Should the acquisition of parliamentary power be a goal, or does the institutionalization of socialism, together with the establishment of alliances with other political parties and organizations, contribute to the effective containment of socialism in general as well as of a socialist-feminist women's rights platform more specifically?

If more were known about both women's lives, it might be possible to reflect on the personal experiences that might have fueled the differences between their answers to these questions. What we know about Florence Dixie's career as a travel writer, a war correspondent, a public lecturer, a novelist, and a political activist has been well summarized recently by Catherine Barnes Stevenson.13 Except for one undocumented reference to Dix's involvement in the socialist movement in Bristol in a recent essay,14 however, I have not been able to learn anything about Gertrude Dix. Little remains to document her life, it seems, aside from the novels The Girl from the Farm and The Image-Breakers, published in 1895 and 1900 respectively. This lack of basic information makes me reluctant to speculate about the relationship between these women's “real” lives and their fictional representations of women's involvement in socialist organizations at the turn of the century (or the influence of one on the other). What I will do here instead, before looking closely at The Image-Breakers, is offer a brief historical overview of new developments in British labor politics at the turn of the century, developments that would not have been a concern for Dixie when she wrote Gloriana in 1890.

In 1890, Britain was still reeling from the success of the London dock strike of 1889. Trade-union membership would continue to expand “massively” through 1892.15 Workingmen's clubs and socialist fellowships of various persuasions were thriving. Robert Blatchford's establishment of the Clarion in 1891, together with the subsequent organization of the socialist Sunday schools, the Clarion Cycling Club, and the famous propaganda vans, offered new opportunities for the production of socialist (popular) culture.16 On the one hand, the organization of the ILP in 1893 in the context of a defeated strike at Bradford represented a setback: the ILP's commitment to achieving “labour representation in Parliament reflected [socialists'] awareness that the groups of workers they were organizing were too weak to win their trade union battles without positive support from the state.”17 But on the other hand, the ILP itself functioned as an important new forum for policy debates between political gradualists and old-guard defenders of utopian idealism, as well as between women's rights supporters and their antagonists.

That Dix does not share Dixie's confidence in the eminent achievement of a socialist revolution is suggested early in The Image-Breakers through her characterization of the male socialist leaders' attitude toward the female factory workers whose strike they are organizing, their disdain for the domestic social reforms proposed by female party members, and their treatment of the upper-middle-class lady who has broken social caste to join the cause. In chapter 2, for example, a debate among the strike leaders, many of whom are what Raymond Williams would term “negatively identified” middle-class radicals,18 reveals their condescension toward “the girls” they are championing. Both this debate and a subsequent discussion of a proposal to collectivize domestic labor by setting up cooperative kitchens and affordable day care for working women's children—an idea dismissed by the men as a threat to their advocacy of the “family wage”19 for male workers—suggest the extent to which Dix views British socialism at the turn of the century as a middle-class movement dominated by men. The revolution of 1900 will not be achieved, for any number of reasons. Class distinctions continue to divide “the comrades” from the workers they champion and from each other. The political effectiveness of any middle-class woman who aspires to be a “Gloriana” is thwarted by these men's refusal to take her seriously; additionally, these men, refusing to entertain alternatives to the sexual division of labor, sustain an exclusive focus on the public sector of the economy. And the “natural” hierarchy of the sexes is endorsed even by those who attack the institution of marriage as a function of bourgeois property relations.

Elsewhere I have discussed how these policy debates affect Rosalind Dangerfield, one of Dix's two protagonists.20 I want to focus here on Leslie Ardent, the second of Dix's female characters, a lower-middle-class woman who withdraws from any kind of political activism quite early in the novel. Having been initially instrumental in the political radicalization of her friend Rosalind, Leslie enrolls in a teacher-training course, then searches for work as an artist, instead of accepting Rosalind's invitation to join a back-to-the-land settlement that seeks to provide “self-supporting employment for [London's] surplus working-class population.”21 Notably, Leslie does not challenge or criticize the new colony's goals; she simply suggests that she wishes “to go [her] own way—fight [her] own battle” (102).

This decision to strike out on her own, to claim the right to be an individual, takes her to London, where she soon becomes involved with a man named John Redgold, a journalist-turned-ILP-activist of whom Rosalind disapproves for two reasons. A notorious “sensualist,” he has a long history of casual sexual relationships. Equally damaging to his reputation in Rosalind's eyes, he is a gradualist: he not only is an ILP activist but also has publicly claimed that the socialists should seek the support of the Liberal Party in order to gain parliamentary representation for the ILP. He tells Leslie: “Why should we want to go away from all the resources of civilisation we’ve got already? The real fight is with the world as it is, not with some figment of our own brains we can never realise” (95).

Unlike Rosalind, Leslie takes offense at neither of these aspects of Redgold's character. Because she views human sexuality as an arena of individual freedom rather than a matter of property relations, she welcomes the opportunity to explore her own sexual responses, and she assumes Redgold's right to do the same in other relationships. For example, in a highly symbolic scene that epitomizes Dix's concessions to censorship in the publishing industry rather than her endorsement of bourgeois sexual ideology, Leslie buys and then sets free a pair of birds before (we are to understand) she sleeps with Redgold for the first time. “I would like you to break a thousand cages—the cages of men and women. … I am only a mere unit in the forces that make for freedom,” she tells him (187).

Leslie also encourages Redgold's determination to become a key behind-the-scenes policymaker by working as an M.P.'s private secretary. In other words, scorning the idealization of chastity in political as well as sexual matters, she considers his work with a prominent Liberal politician as both a legitimate and a politically efficacious expression of his labor politics. She admires his willingness to work within the existing institutional frameworks of government—and to negotiate small changes today—rather than holding out for the grand revolution of the future. The same is true of her own career as well: she is willing to do any kind of work that she can find as a free-lance artist, preferring that form of artistic gradualism to the utopian fantasy of having a room of her own and an inheritance of five hundred pounds a year with which to support her artistic aspirations.

Significantly, Redgold's gradualism becomes a source of conflict in their relationship only when he decides that middle-class domesticity is something that he needs to establish for the sake of his candidate's political reputation. Although Leslie is quite happy sharing a flat with another woman, taking short trips to the country with him when they can afford it, and seeing him when they can both spare the time away from work, he now suggests that they marry and rent a villa in the London suburb that his candidate will represent (if he wins the upcoming election). With the salary he will make as an M.P.'s secretary, he argues, Leslie will be able to give up her work in the city and devote herself to her painting and to playing the role of a politician's wife.

While Leslie does not find the work she is doing—drawing advertisements and posters for commercial ventures—satisfying in terms of its aesthetics, she nonetheless values her financial independence. Moreover, she dreads the isolation of suburban life: “It seemed tragic that Redgold's great desire should be to leave London and the free life to box themselves up in a villa in full view of a town full of stuffy people” (229). And she resents Redgold's acquisition of middle-class attitudes toward the division of labor—his eagerness now to turn her artistic vocation into a leisure-time activity and his increasing reluctance to discuss his own work with her. Sensing that both changes in attitude are prompted not only by his new commitment to the middle-class ideology of separate spheres but also by some sort of flirtation with his candidate's beautiful (and upper-class) niece, Leslie disappears the day they were to have married, leaving him a brief note of apology but no forwarding address. When the two finally meet again more than a year later, their situation is quite different: Leslie is preparing to show her artwork at a public gallery, and Redgold, having decided that working for a Lib-Lab coalition entailed too many compromises in a socialist agenda, is once again working as a journalist. Thus, what Leslie wants to tell her friend when she seeks Rosalind out in the novel's final scene is that Redgold is indeed Leslie's comrade now. Instead of being an instance of what Rosalind had once called “selfishness a deux,” the marriage that Leslie now looks forward to will be a real working partnership. Having once deferred to the leadership of her upper-middle-class friend, Leslie now solidifies her position as the most important “image-breaker” in this novel, the woman who has most effectively broken the Victorian codes of class and gender identity.

It could be argued, perhaps, that the resolution of both women's life stories in The Image-Breakers represents a failure, a loss of faith in the efficacy of political activism and a withdrawal into private life. Leslie Ardent is looking forward only to the fulfillment of her romantic and artistic aspirations, not the revolution of 1900. Betrayed politically and sexually by her partner in a free union, Rosalind, who hides from Leslie when she comes to call in the novel's final chapter, is now working in a stained-glass factory, where her efforts to improve the conditions of labor are ignored by both the management and the women on the shop floor. But rather than assuming that the end of The Image-Breakers confirms the failure of these women's political “vision and commitment” (borrowing Pierson's phrasing again), I would suggest instead that we understand their actions as a redefinition of politics. Again briefly consider, by way of contrast, Gloriana.

Although Florence Dixie legitimizes women's labor in the public sphere in Gloriana, the fact that her utopia steers clear of all domestic issues has the ironic effect of reinstating rather than challenging the Victorian doctrine of separate spheres. Politics, according to Gloriana, are national in scope. In Gertrude Dix's view, in contrast, politics begin at home—because the relationship between the public and the private spheres is much more complex than suggested by that familiar Victorian formulation. The revolution isn’t somewhere “out there” in the public sector, waiting to be achieved, almost magically, in one mass conversion experience; the revolution will be achieved gradually—one relationship at a time. The closing chapter of The Image-Breakers foregrounds Leslie Ardent's determination to achieve this revolution with Redgold.22 Significantly, however, Rosalind Dangerfield evidences the same commitment to individual activism through her work at the factory. Rather than fantasizing about the socialist utopia (the good place), rather than temporarily disguising herself as a workgirl in order to write an exposé for a middle-class journal (as Beatrice Webb had done in 1888, for example),23 Rosalind has now become a woman worker. She has joined the rank and file on the workshop floor. Whether or not management heeds her constant reminders about the various hazards to these women's health in this industry, and whether or not these women treat her as one of themselves, she will continue to agitate on their behalf. In spite of the fact that she herself disdained all forms of political gradualism and cherished the religion of socialism's high-minded idealism during the earliest days of her activism, she now practices a very modest form of gradualism: the commitment of a single individual to improving the conditions of labor in a single workplace.

This crucial shift of focus, this redefinition of politics—which is so central to the cultural work of the New Woman novel in the 1890s—begins to explain why the late-nineteenth-century feminist-socialist utopianism epitomized by Gloriana was not more helpful to Dix and other early-twentieth-century women writers in modeling Britain's future after the turn of the new century. Recent bibliographical studies by critics such as Nan Bowman Albinski and Lyman Tower Sargent establish certain basic facts: the late nineteenth century was indeed the golden age of utopia writing; the number of utopian novels published fell off rapidly during the first two decades of the twentieth century; of those published in Britain between 1900 and 1909, most were written by men and were either antifeminist or antisocialist in character.24 Without more information, of course, it is impossible to establish any notion of Florence Dixie's influence, positive or negative, on Gertrude Dix. Still, it is worth noting that recent revisionary feminist histories of the period confirm the legitimacy of Dix's skepticism concerning any kind of utopian faith in the eminence of a socialist revolution. Instead of invoking or reiterating Gloriana DeLara's optimism, Leslie Ardent and Rosalind Dangerfield's disillusionment with organized socialist politics anticipates the real historical experience of women such as Eva Gore-Booth, Ada Nield Chew, Charlotte Despard, and Sylvia Pankhurst, who were soon to find themselves “torn between a socialist movement which denied feminism, and a feminist movement which dismissed socialism in the prewar period.”25

I would like to suggest, in closing, that Dix's redefinition of politics in The Image-Breakers also anticipates the subsequent work of women such as Wilma Meikle, Christabel Pankhurst, Marion Phillips, Lucy Re Bartlett, and Ethel Snowden. Notwithstanding other differences among their views, in works such as Towards a Sane Feminism (1916), The Great Scourge and How to End It (1913), Women and the Labour Party (1918), Sex and Sanctity (1911), and The Feminist Movement (1913), these early-twentieth-century women writers and political activists reject out of hand the Victorian doctrine of separate spheres, a doctrine that Dixie unwittingly reinstates as she focuses exclusively on the public sphere in Gloriana.26 As the Labour Party shifts its focus of interests between 1910 and 1930 from the industrial conditions of the skilled and unskilled working class to the conditions of working-class life in general, it is women—as Carolyn Steedman notes in her recent biography of Margaret McMillan—who will do the work of documenting, defining, and analyzing these conditions.27 It is women, in other words, who will be instrumental in reconceptualizing the relationship between the public sphere and the private sphere, the political life and the domestic life. The New Woman novel's contribution to cultural politics at the turn of the century is rarely recognized either by historians of the Left or by literary critics writing about the dominant literary tradition. But if we don’t assume that novels are the ephemera of the superstructure, if we don’t use categories such as “the New Woman novel” or “the socialist novel” to isolate (and thereby marginalize) certain kinds of cultural production, then it becomes possible to see how a novel such as The Image-Breakers challenges familiar explanations of British socialism's journey from fantasy to politics at the turn of the century as it exposes the class and gender biases that kept—and still keep—“the revolution of 1900” from happening.


  1. Stanley Pierson, British Socialists: The Journey from Fantasy to Politics (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979), 2-3. Other studies that support Pierson's include Kenneth Brown, The English Labour Movement, 1700-1951 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1982), 183, and James Hinton, Labour and Socialism: A History of the British Labour Movement, 1867-1974 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1983), 24-30.

  2. Julia Swindells and Alice Jardine, What’s Left? Women in Culture and the Labour Movement (London: Routledge, 1990), 2. For discussions of turn-of-the-century British socialists' responses to feminism, see Sandra Stanley Holton, Feminism and Democracy: Women's Suffrage and Reform Politics in Britain, 1900-1918 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986); Susan Kingsley Kent, Sex and Suffrage in Britain, 1860-1914 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987); Jill Liddington and Jill Norris, One Hand Tied behind Us: The Rise of the Women's Suffrage Movement (London: Virago, 1978); Caroline Rowan, “Women in the Labour Party, 1906-1920,” Feminist Review 12 (October 1982): 74-91; and Sheila Rowbotham, Hidden from History: Rediscovering Women in History from the Seventeenth Century to the Present (New York: Vintage, 1976), 90-107.

  3. Florence Dixie, Gloriana; or, The Revolution of 1900, 3 vols. (London: Henry and Co., 1890), 1:6.

  4. As quoted by Barbara Taylor in “Socialist Feminism: Utopian or Scientific?,” in People's History and Socialist Theory, edited by Raphael Samuel (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981), 160. Other British women socialists who preferred to dissociate themselves from feminism included Margaret Bondfield, Katharine St. John Conway (later Glasier), Margaret McMillan, and Beatrice Potter Webb. Although their view of feminism as a movement for middle-class ladies was shared by ILP leaders such as Philip Snowden and John Bruce Glasier, Keir Hardie was the only major figure in national labor politics at the turn of the century to join women such as Enid Stacy, Eva Gore-Booth, Julia Dawson, and Ada Nield Chew in trying to integrate women's rights into a socialist platform. (See Liddington and Norris, One Hand Tied behind Us, 129-51.)

  5. See Carol Dyhouse's discussion of the wide currency of this term in socialist-feminist literature during the prewar period in Feminism and the Family, 1880-1939 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989), 38. Dyhouse attributes its popularity to the publication of Olive Schreiner's Woman and Labour (1911), but Dixie's use of this term in 1890 suggests a much longer history of this usage.

  6. Barbara Taylor, Eve and the New Jerusalem: Socialism and Feminism in the Nineteenth Century (New York: Pantheon Books, 1983), xv, 284.

  7. For further discussion of this scene, see Ann L. Ardis, New Women, New Novels: Feminism and Early Modernism (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1990), 120.

  8. For further discussion of the religious fervor of political conversion in late-nineteenth-century socialist writings and of middle-class women's identification with the working class, see Stephen Yeo, “A New Life: The Religion of Socialism in Britain, 1883-1896,” History Workshop Journal 4 (Autumn 1977): 5-56, and Brunhild de la Motte, “Radicalism—Feminism—Socialism: The Case of the Women Novelists,” in The Rise of Socialist Fiction, 1880-1914, edited by H. Gustav Klaus (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1987), 28-48.

  9. See, for example, Gail Cunningham, The New Woman and the Victorian Novel (London: Macmillan, 1978), 10.

  10. Nan Bowman Albinski, Women's Utopias in British and American Fiction (London: Routledge, 1988), 19, 4. Note, by way of contrast, the long tradition of experimentation and theorizing about domestic revolution in America, a tradition than Dolores Hayden dates back to the Civil War (see The Grand Domestic Revolution: A History of Feminist Designs for American Homes, Neighborhoods, and Cities [Cambridge: MIT Press, 1981]).

  11. Susan Squier, “The Modern City and the Construction of Female Desire: Wells' In the Days of the Comet and Robins' The Convert,Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 8 (1989): 72.

  12. See Peter C. Gould, Early Green Politics: Back to Nature, Back to the Land, and Socialism in Britain, 1880-1900 (Sussex: Harvester Press; New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988), for further discussion of the Kyrle Society, the Commons Preservation Society, and other back-to-nature social-improvement organizations with which Dixie might have been familiar.

  13. Catherine Barnes Stevenson, Victorian Women Travel Writers in Africa (Boston: Twayne, 1982).

  14. Brunhild de la Motte mentions in a footnote that Dix was “part of the socialist movement in Bristol” (see “Radicalism—Feminism—Socialism,” 47). In “A New Life,” Yeo also mentions Dix in a footnote (54 n. 85) referring to Samson Bryher's 1929 An Account of the Labour and Socialist Movement in Bristol (Bristol: Bristol Labour Weekly); I have not had access to Bryher's study.

  15. Yeo, “A New Life,” 8.

  16. See Chris Waters, British Socialists and the Politics of Popular Culture, 1884-1914 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990).

  17. Hinton, Labour and Socialism, 60.

  18. Raymond Williams, Culture and Society, 1780-1950 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1958, 1983), 176.

  19. Jane Lewis notes that the family-wage argument was “the major bargaining counter of the general labor unions and sweated workers” during this period (“The Working-Class Wife and Mother and State Intervention, 1870-1918,” in Labour and Love: Women's Experience of Home and Family, 1850-1914, edited by Jane Lewis [Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986], 103). See also Hilary Land, “The Family Wage,” Feminist Review 6 (1980): 55-77.

  20. Ardis, New Women, 134-35, 159-60.

  21. Gertrude Dix, The Image-Breakers (London: W. Heinemann, 1900), 55.

  22. Pamela Fox's argument—in this volume (chapter 3)—about working-class women's contradictory investment in the romance plot lends support to my reading of the highly sentimental ending of Leslie's story in The Image-Breakers. As Fox suggests with regard to Ethel Carnie Holdsworth's fiction, the foregrounding of Leslie and Redgold's relationship in Dix's novel “helps to redefine the scope of politics in working-class culture and of ‘political’ narrative in working-class writing.” The fact that Leslie has now claimed for herself the kind of storybook idealization of a heterosexual partnering that she had ascribed only to wealthy ladies such as her friend Rosalind in the novel's opening scene “unsettle[s] the whole enterprise of working-class writing.”

  23. See Ann L. Ardis, “Beatrice Webb's Romance with Ethnography,” Women's Studies 18 (1990): 1-16.

  24. Lyman Tower Sargent, British and American Utopian Literature, 1516-1975: An Annotated Bibliography (1979), as quoted by Albinski in Women's Utopias, 29.

  25. Rowbotham, Hidden from History, 22.

  26. See Sheila Jeffreys, The Spinster and Her Enemies: Feminism and Sexuality, 1880-1930 (London: Pandora, 1985), for a detailed discussion of these early-twentieth-century feminist theorists.

  27. Carolyn Steedman, Childhood, Culture, and Class in Britain: Margaret McMillan, 1860-1931 (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1990), 8.

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Criticism: Anglo-American Socialism


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