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Bicycles, Bangs, and Bloomers

Bicycles, Bangs, and Bloomers: The New Woman in the Popular Press

Patricia Marks
Copyright Date: 1990
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Bicycles, Bangs, and Bloomers
    Book Description:

    The so-called "New Woman" -- that determined and free-wheeling figure in "rational" dress, demanding education, suffrage, and a career-was a frequent target for humorists in the popular press of the late nineteenth century. She invariably stood in contrast to the "womanly woman," a traditional figure bound to domestic concerns and a stereotype away from which many women were inexorably moving.

    Patricia Marks's book, based on a survey of satires and caricatures drawn from British and American periodicals of the 1880s and 1890s, places the popular view of the New Woman in the context of the age and explores the ways in which humor both reflected and shaped readers' perceptions of women's changing roles.

    Not all commentators of the period attacked the New Woman; even conservative satirists were more concerned with poverty, prostitution, and inadequate education than with defending so-called "femininity." Yet, as the influx of women into the economic mainstream changed social patterns, the popular press responded with humor ranging from the witty to the vituperative.

    Many of Marks's sources have never been reprinted and exist only in unindexed periodicals. Her book thus provides a valuable resource for those studying the rise of feminism and the influence of popular culture, as well as literary historians and critics seeking to place more formal genres within a cultural framework. Historians, sociologists, and others with an interest in Victorianism will find in it much to savor.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5863-1
    Subjects: Sociology, History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. INTRODUCTION: Queen Victoria’s Granddaughter
    (pp. 1-23)

    OFTEN COMPARED to a flower, a kitten, or a child, she was modest and pure minded, unselfish and meek. She knew her place well; naturally fitted to the common round of household duties, she could make a home of a hovel by ministering to the needs of her husband, either as uncomplaining drudge or angel on the hearth. Nothing in herself, the littlest and the least of all creation, she achieved greatness not in her own right but in her relatedness as daughter and wife and, if she survived the rigors of childbirth, as mother and grandmother. This Victorian Iphigenia,...

  6. ONE Women and Marriage: “Running in Blinkers”
    (pp. 24-54)

    SO OPEN a declaration against the Victorian ideal of domestic bliss by ’Arry,Punch’s cockney maven, is more than just a class phenomenon; other “dashing young fellers” in all walks found the expense of setting up an establishment a strong deterrent to marriage. In the 1880s, when the women’s movement began to receive almost constant notice in the press, ’Arry’s lighthearted profession of bachelorhood represented a serious threat to the growing number of superfluous women.Punch’s “Sketch from Nature” of a neatly dressed, middle-class girl standing wistfully in front of a sign that reads “No Reasonable Offer Refused” (Fig. 1)...

  7. TWO Women’s Work: More “Bloomin’ Bad Bizness”
    (pp. 55-89)

    THE POPULATION inequity, coupled with the disinclination of the ’Arrys and Edwins to marry, caused many women to move from what they themselves considered their proper sphere—the home—into the workplace. Received opinion gave this sphere mythical proportions: both derided and glorified, it was exacting in obligation and liberal in wealth of influence, narrow in intellectual rigor and broad in emotional demands. Exactly those qualities that were said to make women excel at domestic obligations were also said to limit them in the workplace: their emotional, intuitive responses, their innocence, and their lack of education were inappropriate for a...

  8. THREE Women’s Education: “Maddest Folly Going”
    (pp. 90-116)

    FROM THE cockney ‘Arry to Gilbert and Sullivan, women’s education might well have seemed the “maddest folly going.” Indeed, in an age in which sons had tutors or were sent away to school and daughters had governesses, when finishing schools provided the most surface of polishes, women’s education had small value, although it was, in monetary terms, extremely expensive. The idea, moreover, of women establishing more than a dame school to teach young children seemed unreasonable; not only did they themselves lack the advantages of male training, but their prospective students were expected eventually to marry. Received wisdom suggested that...

  9. FOUR Women’s Clubs: “Girls Will Be Girls”
    (pp. 117-146)

    THE EXCEPTIONAL proliferation of women’s clubs during the last decades of the century testified to the growing independence not only of the woman whose education and whose work experience had given her a taste of her own capabilities but also of the woman who followed a more conventional path. Such exclusively female communities served a variety of purposes and raised a variety of alarms among the satirists. To be sure, women had always gathered for charitable work or for social reasons, and frequently for a combination of both, but the more deliberate and professional the organizational structures became, the more...

  10. FIVE Women’s Fashions: The Shape of Things to Come
    (pp. 147-173)

    THE WOMAN who worked or went to college might persistently and inaccurately be seen as an anomaly; indeed, her more conservative sisters might dismiss her activities and continue living cheerfully as the Mrs. Notions of the nineteenth century. When fashions began to mirror and express the new way in which women perceived themselves, however, everyone took notice. Perhaps satirists have always made fun of the seemingly irrational developments in women’s fashions, just as some women themselves have made a fetish of studying and following the fillips of frills and flounces. Even so, the new change to “rational dress” the change...

  11. SIX Women’s Athletics: A Bicycle Built for One
    (pp. 174-203)

    THE WOMAN who put on divided skirts and took to the roads on her “safety” gained not only independence but also a measure of health and a sense of well-being that her neurasthenic sister of earlier decades might have envied. As angel in the home, woman was symbol and ideal; she participated in a well-recognized tradition. As New Woman on a bicycle, however, she exercised power more fundamentally, changing the conventions of courtship and chaperonage, of marriage and travel. As her sphere of influence broadened and her physical stamina increased, the focus of the satire and caricature that recorded her...

  12. CONCLUSION: The New Woman
    (pp. 204-209)

    LONG BEFORE Queen Victoria died, she had ceased to represent the new, fresh hope of the nation that she had become when, as a girl of eighteen, she woke up one morning to find herself queen of England. Indeed, once she put on her mourning gown for Albert in 1861, she fixed herself forever in the imagination of the world as an emblem of a set of values that many came to consider hidebound. Yet there is no question that during her reign England and its sister country America grew in all ways—socially, industrially, intellectually—in an unprecedented manner....

    (pp. 210-214)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 215-224)