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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 1999
  • Online publication date: March 2010

8 - Portraits of the artist as a young woman: representations of the female artist in the New Woman fiction of the 1890s


When you grow up, I think you will want to do something that only a few people can do well – paint a picture, write a book, act in the theatre, make music – it doesn't matter what; it if comes to you … just do it … And don't ask anybody if they think you can do it; they'll be sure to say no; and then you'll be disheartened. (Beth Caldwell's father addressing his daughter in Sarah Grand's The Beth Book)

In a recent attempt to categorize a distinctive genre of New Woman fiction and, in particular, to distinguish it from those fin-de-siècle novels (often written by men) which are merely about the New Woman, Ann Heilmann writes: “[I]n its most typical form, New Woman fiction is feminist fiction written by women, and deals with middle-class heroines who in some way re-enact autobiographical dilemmas faced by the writers themselves … [it is] a genre at the interface between auto/ biography, fiction and feminist propaganda.” In this chapter I shall explore the “feminism” of the New Woman fiction – a feminism so fraught with contradictions, and apparently so preoccupied with narratives of female failure, that it sometimes appears to be antifeminist – by examining the “interface”, in a number of nineties fictions by women, “between auto/biography, fiction and feminist propaganda,” or, to use terms which are probably more useful than the latter in this context, feminist debate and polemic.