New woman, new testaments : Christian narrative and new women writing (Olive Schreiner, Amy Levy, Sarah Grand)
This thesis examines the influence of Christian interpretative frameworks on three New Woman novels: Olive Schreiner's The Story of an African Farm (1883), Amy Levy's Reuben Sachs (1888) and Sarah Grand's The Heavenly Twins (1893). It shows how Christian narratives were used to plot women's civic and sexual emancipation in the decade leading up to the naming of the 'New Woman' in the literary marketplace of the mid-1890s. This thesis arises out of an interest in women's theology and how this intersects with new feminist forms of women's fiction. It argues that, by the end of the nineteenth century, a theological apparatus enabled women novelists to plot female subjectivity outside of a Christian devotional context. Christian themes, such as self-sacrifice, conversion and prophecy, provided New Woman authors with a shared framework within which to nuance their ideological differences. Chapter one considers faith, doubt and the Woman Question in Olive Schreiner's The Story of an African Farm. This chapter shows how she used the high form of spiritual biography to plot women's civic and sexual struggle. Chapter two considers how the Christian structures of late-nineteenth century feminist thinking and Jewish conversion intersect in Amy Levy's Reuben Sachs. This chapter focuses on an original account of the Jewish heroine's reading of Swinburne's Poems and Ballads at the centre of Levy's novel as a scene of sexual and cultural revelation. Chapter three examines Christian tropes in sex education debates of the mid-1890s and how these are plotted in Sarah Grand's The Heavenly Twins. This chapter is concerned with the religious contours of social purity campaigning and how they impact on questions of literary form. The thesis concludes by considering more widely the effect of a fragmentation of Christian culture on fictional representation of women's social and intellectual transition in the final years of the century.