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The so-called “New Woman”—that determined and free-wheeling figure in “rational” dress, demanding education, suffrage, and a career-was a frequent target for humorists in the popular press of the late nineteenth century. She invariably stood in contrast to the “womanly woman,” a traditional figure bound to domestic concerns and a stereotype away from which many women were inexorably moving.
Patricia Marks’s book, based on a survey of satires and caricatures drawn from British and American periodicals of the 1880s and 1890s, places the popular view of the New Woman in the context of the age and explores the ways in which humor both reflected and shaped readers’ perceptions of women’s changing roles.
Not all commentators of the period attacked the New Woman; even conservative satirists were more concerned with poverty, prostitution, and inadequate education than with defending so-called “femininity.” Yet, as the influx of women into the economic mainstream changed social patterns, the popular press responded with humor ranging from the witty to the vituperative.
Many of Marks’s sources have never been reprinted and exist only in unindexed periodicals. Her book thus provides a valuable resource for those studying the rise of feminism and the influence of popular culture, as well as literary historians and critics seeking to place more formal genres within a cultural framework. Historians, sociologists, and others with an interest in Victorianism will find in it much to savor.
Patricia Marks, professor of English at Valdosta State College, is author of American Literary and Drama Reviews and co-author of The Smiling Muse: Victoriana in the Comic Press.
"Marks traces the evolution of the ‘New Woman’ . . . These new directions, mirrored in the press with immoderate humor, as evidenced in this collection of prose, verse and cartoons, constitute a significant contribution to the study of feminism and Victorianism."—Publishers Weekly
"Provides an exemplum of the ways in which popular culture interacts with social issues."—Studies in Popular Culture
"A helpful, entertaining compendium."—Victorian Periodicals Review
"Helped by her astute commentary, historical analysts of gender will borrow much for their own purposes."—American Literature
"An entertaining glimpse of the power the popular media had at the time in promoting-or stifling-the advancement of women."—Daily Yomiuri
The University Press of Kentucky
Place of Publication
New Woman, Feminism, Women in the press, Victorian women
Marks, Patricia, "Bicycles, Bangs, and Bloomers: The New Woman in the Popular Press" (1990). Women's Studies. 11.