The New Women: 1880-1920 - EN713

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2018-19
Canterbury Spring
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6 30 (15) DR M Shaw




Not available as wild



The New Woman, a controversial figure who became prominent in British literature in the late nineteenth century, challenged traditional views of femininity and represented a more radical understanding of women's nature and role in society. She was associated with a range of unconventional behaviour – from smoking and bicycle-riding to sexuality outside marriage and political activism. This module will examine some of the key literary texts identified with the New Woman phenomenon including women's journalism in the period. The module's reading will be organised around central thematic concerns such as: sexuality and motherhood; suffrage and politics; career and creativity. We will consider to what extent the New Woman was a media construction or whether the term reflected the lives of progressive women in the period. This module will also examine how the New Woman became a global phenomenon, beginning with the plays of Henrik Ibsen, before spreading to literature produced around the world by writers from Britain (eg Amy Levy, Evelyn Sharp) America (Charlotte Perkins Gilman), Australia (George Egerton), and New Zealand (Katherine Mansfield). The module will also consider the legacy of the New Woman into the early modernist period, through studying Virginia Woolf’s novel that depicts the suffrage movement, Night and Day.


This module appears in:

Contact hours

10 x 2-hour seminars and 10 x 1-hour lectures or research skills workshops

Method of assessment

100% Coursework: two evenly-weighted essays (2500 words each) 80%, a small research project (1000 words) 10%, seminar participation 10%

Indicative reading

Caird, M. (1989) The Daughters of Danaus. New York: CUNY Press.
Ibsen, H. (2003) A Doll's House and Other Plays. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Levy, A. (2006) The Romance of a Shop. Peterborough, ON.: Broadview.
Showalter, E. (ed.) (1993) Daughters of Decadence: Women Writers of the Fin de Siècle. London: Virago.
Votes for Women and The Freewoman (suffragette newspapers available free online)
Woolf, V. (2009) Night and Day. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Secondary Texts:
Heilman, A. (2000) New Woman Fiction: Women Writing First-Wave Feminism. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Parkins, W. (2009) Mobility and Modernity in British Women’s Novels, 1850s-1930s: Women Moving Dangerously. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
(Short stories by Katherine Mansfield, Evelyn Sharp, George Egerton and Vernon Lee will be available in a Course Reader available before the start of term.)

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

See the library reading list for this module (Medway)

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module, students will have acquired the following subject specific learning outcomes:

1 Detailed knowledge of New Woman literature as an identifiable sub-genre of literature chiefly in novels and short stories but also evident in journalism and drama in the period 1880-1920.
2 Knowledge of the social, cultural and political contexts in which the New Woman phenomenon emerged, focusing on Britain in the period 1880-1920, but with an awareness of the global spread of this phenomenon.
3 A conceptual understanding of how New Woman literature deployed or adapted conventions of literature drawn from realism, decadence and modernism.
4 Enhanced understanding of how the New Woman phenomenon has been rediscovered and examined in current literary criticism and cultural history, from the 1990s to the present.
5 Enhanced knowledge of the writing careers and the publication history of the authors studied.

On successful completion of this module, students will be able to demonstrate the following generic learning outcomes:

1 Apply the methods, techniques and terminology of close reading to a range of literary texts in different genres.
2 Apply understandings of historical context to the interpretation of literary texts.
3 Undertake self-directed research and critically evaluate secondary theoretical or historical perspectives in that research.
4 Construct coherent, articulate and well-supported arguments both in oral presentations and written work.

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