Victorian Popular Fictions 2.2 2 Beller

Collapsing the Courtship Plot: The Challenge to Mid-Victorian Romance in New Woman Short Stories of the 1890s

Anne-Marie Beller


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The New Woman writing of the 1890s grappled with the legacy of mid-nineteenth century constructions of romance and gender ideology. In their bid to promote a new vision of heterosexual relations between the sexes, New Woman writers often explicitly engaged with earlier ideals of Separate Spheres and the “Angel in the House.” The short story provided an ideal form for exploring these issues, freeing writers from the generic conventions of the traditional three-volume novel. This article examines the ways in which three women writers of the 1890s attempted to rewrite the script of mid-Victorian courtship through the short story genre. In different, but related ways, Mona Caird’s “The Yellow Drawing Room,” Ella D’Arcy’s “The Pleasure Pilgrim” and Ella Hepworth Dixon’s “One Doubtful Hour” all offer a challenge to the doctrine of separate spheres. Yet, while each of these texts critique what they present as outmoded views of woman’s sphere and nature, they also articulate the difficulties experienced by both genders in imagining an evolved and improved model of sexual relations. These short stories represent the collapse in New Woman fiction of the traditional “courtship plot” through a failure to re-imagine and re-map the mid-Victorian gender ideology they seek to dismantle.


Key Words

Mona Caird; Ella D’Arcy; Ella Hepworth Dixon; New Woman; short story; Victorian courtship plot.


Date of Acceptance: 1 October 2020

Date of Publication: 25 October 2020

Double Blind Peer Reviewed


Recommended Citation

Beller, Anne-Marie.  2020.  “Collapsing the Courtship Plot: The Challenge to Mid-Victorian Romance in New Woman Short Stories of the 1890s.”  Victorian Popular Fictions,  2.2 (Autumn 2020):  28-40.

ISSN: 2632-4253 (online).



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