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Monday, 17 September 2012

Sandals!

Saturday, September 17th., London.

Young, Kennerley and I rode from Farnham to Witley to inspect the house which Young and I are to rent for the next three years.

Cottage at Witley, Surrey



About four centuries old, this house for the last hundred years had been called The Fowl House, until it was named by its present occupants Godspeace. These occupants are four: C.E.Dawson, a young artist; Morris, a journalist who writes on the connection between Whitman and architecture; Gertrude Dix, the novelist; and Esther Wood, a writer on art. I saw all but Gertrude Dix. They are vegetarians and teetotallers - and they wear sandals. They have the air of living the higher life. All of us were pleased with Esther Wood, a 'New Woman'.



The term “New Woman” was coined by the writer and public speaker Sarah Grand in 1894. It soon became a popular catch-phrase in newspapers and books. The New Woman, a significant cultural icon of the of the fin de si├Ęcle, departed from the stereotypical Victorian woman. She was intelligent, educated, emancipated, independent and self-supporting. The New Women were not only middle-class female radicals, but also factory and office workers. As Sally Ledger wrote: "The New Woman was a very fin-de-siecle phenomenon. Contemporary with the new socialism, the new imperialism, the new fiction and the new journalism, she was part of cultural novelties which manifested itself in the 1880s and 1890s." At the end of the nineteenth century, New Woman ideology began to play a significant part in complex social changes that led to the redefining gender roles, consolidating women’s rights, and overcoming masculine supremacy. The discourse on gender relations took place alongside developments in labour relations (increased feminisation of the labour force), divorce legislature, education for women, single motherhood, sanitation and epidemiology as well as female consumer culture. The New Woman soon found advocates among the aesthetes and decadents. The New Woman, a tempting object of ridicule in the press and popular fiction, was generally middle-class, and New Women included social reformers, popular novelists, suffragists, female students and professional women. 

The contemporary satirical representations
of the New Woman usually pictured 
her riding a bicycle in bloomers and 
smoking a cigarette.  Lyn Pykett has observed the ambivalent representations of the New Woman in the late-Victorian discourse: "The New Woman was by turns: a mannish amazon and a Womanly woman; she was oversexed, undersexed, or same sex identified; she was anti-maternal, or a racial supermother; she was male-identified, or manhating and/or man-eating or self-appointed saviour of benighted masculinity; she was anti-domestic or she sought to make domestic values prevail; she was radical, socialist or revolutionary, or she was reactionary and conservative; she was the agent of social and/or racial regeneration, or symptom and agent of decline." 
The New Woman phenomenon found an interesting representation in late Victorian fiction and anticipated various discourses of a new womanhood in the twentieth century.


Tonight I will dream that I wore sandals and was ashamed.
Since seeing the house at Witley I have been quite depressed in anticipation of the time which must elapse before I can leave London permanently for the country. It is as though the next year or two in London will be unbearable.

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