Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Anca Vlasopolos


This dissertation provides an intertextual reading of Grant Allen's The Woman Who Did (1895), Victoria Cross's The Woman Who Didn't (1895), and Lucas Cleeve's The Woman Who Wouldn't (1895) in order to historically and culturally contextualize these popular New Woman novels in social-purity feminism, the marriage debate, and reticent sexual politics of the late-nineteenth century. By examining the ways that The Woman Who heroines discursively and thematically engage with first-wave feminism and by focusing on this dialectical exchange of feminist ideas and practices as they were manifested in feminist publications and campaigns at the turn of the century, I argue that these texts confront the patriarchal ideologies that transcribed first-wave feminism. These intertextual encounters reveal the limitations of first-wave feminist ideals and call for a transformative feminism sundered from the influence of The Angel and from the old theories of purity and virtue that preserved this collective construct of womanhood.

The Introduction provides an overview of my argument and identifies the critical framework, research, and terminology that foreground my analysis. It closely examines the critical reception of the novels in the late nineteenth century in order to legitimize the intertextuality of the novels. It is through intertextuality that we are able to trace the contradictory sexual politics in all three texts and see how these reflect the ambiguous cultural and social codes that constructed ideal femininity.

In the remainder of the dissertation, I take up three competing cultural narratives that the texts respond to on thematic, narrative, and discursive levels and trace how they use and/or attempt to dismantle these opposing voices. In Chapter 1, I examine the intertexual dialogue between The Woman Who series and social-purity feminism in order to argue that the textual encounters with social-purity theory and practice challenge the monolithic definition of the pure woman and undermine the transformative power of the angel in order to redirect feminist thought beyond the current purity politics. In Chapter 2, I turn my attention to how The Woman Who Did, The Woman Who Didn't, and The Woman Who Wouldn't simultaneously enlarged nineteenth-century feminist arguments about marriage reform and subverted the dominant feminist ideologies that fueled such arguments by projecting new romantic and marital situations. Chapter 3 follows up what the previous chapters have all alluded to: how the New Woman's encounters with social-purity politics and with the issues of the marriage debate threatened to unveil the reticent sexual politics that emerged into the public conversation as a result of feminist campaigns against the Contagious Diseases Acts. Here, I discuss how The Woman Who intertexts merge with the aftermath of first-wave feminist campaigns by appropriating prostitution and slavery phraseology, by uncovering the tension between liberal feminist values and maternity, and by exploring the idea of self-definition through alternative images of female sexuality and individualized approaches to sexual knowledge. Thus, as each text interrogates the social and cultural forces that regulate women's access to sexual knowledge and construct female sexual identity, they jointly produce an intertext wherein the "unpractical utopianism" of the New Woman heroine parallels the oppositional sexual politics of the first-wave feminism.