My Year in Nonfiction 2019 | Victorian women writers

Hi, folks!

In 2018, I started a series of posts where I made an overview of my nonfiction reading over the year, and I quite enjoyed the format. Since it is still #Victober, in this first post, I will talk about the nonfiction books I read this year about Victorian women writers:


The Journals of George Eliot, edited by Margaret Harris and Judith Johnston (1999)

This is a complete edition of Eliot’s journals, from her union with Lewes in 1854, until her death in 1880. Around a quarter of the material published here had not been previously published, and the rest has appeared in print in piecemeal fashion, some interpolated in J. W. Cross’s George Eliot’s Life as Related in Her Letters and Journals (1885) and some in Gordon S. Haight’s The George Eliot Letters (1954-78) and George Eliot: A Biography (1968).

It is also important to note that Eliot’s journals covering the years between 1849 and mid-1854 have been destroyed. According to Haight, George Eliot may have removed these pages herself, or John Walter Cross may have excised it so as to slightly modify his wife’s memory for posthumous respectability. The journal covering her travels in Spain in 1866–67 and her diary for 1878 are also missing.

The journals collected in this edition comprise two different kinds of writing: at on end of her notebooks, Eliot kept a daily record of her personal life, her social activities, and her self-imposed schedule of study and writing; at the opposite end of the notebooks, she assessed and recast her daily notes and impressions in longer, more conventional essays, mostly of her travels abroad, chronicling architecture, art, food, landscape and manners, possibly for future publication.

The two kinds of writing not only complement each other, but also give us an insight into the way Eliot reworked her experience into her writing, as well as the way her writing structured her life. The essay “Recollections of Weimar 1854”, in particular, is a version of the diary she kept from 20 July to 3 November 1854, and we can also notice a similar parallel between the diary and the “Recollections of Berlin”.

Some sections of these recollections were published in George Eliot’s lifetime: two articles, “Three Months in Weimar” and “Liszt, Wagner and Weimar”, appeared in Fraser’s Magazine in 1855, and she revised these essays for publication in the Essays and Leaves from a Note-book (1884). Some paragraphs of her “Recollections of Ilfracombe, 1856” also appeared in G. H. Lewes’s “Sea-Side Studies at Ilfracombe, Tenby, the Scilly Isles, and Jersey” (1860), which can give us a dimension of their collaboration.

We also have a section called by the editors “The Making of George Eliot”, which includes her essays “How I came to write Fiction” (1857) and “History of Adam Bede” (1859), along with the record of sales and reception of Scenes of Clerical Life (1858) and Adam Bede (1859).

Instead of mixing the narratives in chronological order, the editors arranged them in sequential order within genre, more or less in the same fragmented way they appear in the notebooks. First, we have the diaries from mid-1854 to 1880, then we go back to the recollections, which are the rewritings of some of her diaries for publication. Then, we go to the diaries of the 1856 trip to Ilfracombe and the 1857 trip to Scillies and Jersey. Finally, we have the section on her ‘making’ as a novelist, followed by a diary of Germany from 1858, Italian dairies of 1860 and 1864, and a diary of Normandy and Brittany in 1865.

The editors argue that this separation between the daily entries in her diaries and her longer essays reflects the separation between her private and public personas, between Marian Evans (or Mrs. Lewes, as she preferred) and George Eliot as her writing self.

Each section is introduced by the editors’ summary and commentary, with biographical context, references to criticism, to Eliot’s letters, and to Lewes’s diaries and letters of the same period. There are a few footnotes along the main text of the diaries, mostly to translate some expressions in French, Latin, and German. At the end of the book, we have a rich “explanatory Index”, where the editors briefly identify people and places mentioned throughout the journals.

The writing in her daily entries is quite brief, there are often gaps in the sequence of diaries, and, after the publication of Adam Bede, the diary contracts markedly. There are very few personal commentaries: “Few women, I fear, have had such reason as I have to think the long sad years of youth were worth living for the sake of middle age.”

One of the few personal entries is the one announcing the death of her partner’s son, Thornton Lewes, in 1869: “This death seems to me the beginning of our own”. But the part where we come closest to the woman behind ‘George Eliot’ happens in the diary she kept after Lewes’ death at the end of 1878 – and, even then, her grief is never directly stated, but rather mediated by literature.

Her diary for 1879 opens with a quotation of Shakespeare: “Here I and Sorrow sit“(King John, 3.1.73, by Shakespeare), followed by a string of mourning poems by Chaucer, Heine, Donne, Goethe. She repeatedly refers to Lewes as ‘my darling’, as she reads his diaries and books. “Wrote memories, and lived with him all day.” Sometimes, she only writes: “Tears, tears”.

Commenting on an enlarged portrait of Lewes, she wrote in a letter: “(…) each time I look at it I feel its unlikeness more. Himself as he was is what I see inwardly, and I am afraid of outward images lest they should corrupt the inward.”

Tennyson’s In Memoriam (1850) deserves special attention, as well as Emily Bronte’s Remembrance (1845) – a poem which asks the dead lover’s forgiveness as the speaker turns again to life, and which she copies in full five months before her marriage to Cross: “How could I seek the empty world again?” (E. Bronte)

In fact, Cross is barely mentioned in this journal, appearing alternately as “Johnnie” and “Mr. Cross”, and her decision to marry him is mentioned very briefly and without any explanation, just when he seemed to have disappeared from the diary: “My marriage decided.” In her letters, she would comment more about her marriage to him: “But marriage has seemed to restore me to my old self. I was getting hard, and if I had decided differently, I think I should have become very selfish. To feel daily the loveliness of a nature close to me, and to be grateful to it, is the fountain of tenderness and strength to endure.” (Letters, vol. 7, letter to Charles Lewes)

Eliot makes very few entries commenting on her books and their reception, like these two entries about the public’s enthusiasm with Middlemarch: “Hardly anything could have happened to me which I could regard as a greater blessing than this growth of my spiritual existence when my bodily existence is decaying. The merely egoistic satisfactions of fame are easily nullified by toothache, and that has made my chief consciousness for the last week”; “More than in any former year of my life, love has been poured forth to me from distant hearts”.

Most of the time, the diaries chronicle Eliot’s daily routine: her reading, most of it in preparation for her writing; her struggles with the work on her books; the visits she payed and received, her daily walks, her excursions to theatre, opera, and galleries, her travels. There is barely no comment on political issues, nor any gossip or complaint against other people. The entries are mostly made of lists of books she read, topics she studied, or things she saw, with scarcely any further appreciation about them. Her studies comprised a wide variety of topics: philosophy, astronomy, Hebrew, algebra, and medicine, just to name a few. “In fact, my mind is embarrassed by the number and wide variety of subjects that attract me, and the enlarging vista that each brings with it.”

Here is an example of a typical entry: “Read Scherr. Finished revising Part I of Spinoza’s Ethics. Walked till dinner. Read a little of Tasso and then we went to Prof. Gruppe’s and spent a pleasant evening with him, his wife and her naive sister.” (Monday, 18 December 1854)

We can see some of her personal notes later reflected on her fiction, like her disappointment with Rome in 1860, which will be shared with Dorothea Casaubon in Middlemarch (1871-72): “At last we came in sight of Rome, but there was nothing imposing to be seen. (…) Not one iota had I seen that corresponded with my preconceptions”.

Her daily entries are not in any way confessional or revelatory, but sometimes, especially in the early diaries, they can be endearing: “The chat was agreeable enough, but the sight of the gliding ships darkening against the dying sunlight made me feel chat rather importunate. I think, when I give a white bait dinner I will invite no one but my second self, and we will agree not to talk audibly.”

I found particularly curious that, alongside information on book sales, she kept Dickens’s letter of 1857, where he speculated about the gender of the author of Scenes of Clerical Life (1858): “I should have been strongly disposed, if I had been left to my own devices, to address the said writer as a woman.”

Also interesting were her essays on Germany, particularly her record of her first trip with Lewes to Weimar and Berlin, where she did not suffer with the stigma she had to face in Britain for her cohabitation with Lewes and their lack of a marriage certificate: “After all, Germany is no bad place to live in, and the Germans, to counterbalance their want of taste and politeness, are at least free from the bigotry and exclusiveness of their more refined cousins”.

Her essays, in general, where she elaborates on her experiences, are the strongest sections in this book – as in her recollections of Italy, 1860: “One great deduction to me from the delight of seeing world-famous objects is the frequent double consciousness which tells me that I am not enjoying the actual vision enough, and that when higher enjoyment comes with the reproduction of the scene in my imagination I shall have lost some of the details, which impress me too feebly in the present because the faculties are not wrought up into energetic action“.

At the end of each year, she makes an assessment of the main events, sums up her accomplishments, makes resolutions, and keeps an account of her blessings: “The last day of 1865.I will say nothing but that I trust – I will strive – to add more ardent effort towards a good result from all the outward good that is given to me“; “I have set myself many tasks for the year – I wonder how many will be accomplished? A novel called Middlemarch, a long poem on Timoleon, and several minor poems” (Jan. 1, 1869); “Here is the last day of 1870. I have written only 100 pages—good printed pages—of a story which I began about the opening of November, and at present mean to call ‘Miss Brooke’. Poetry halts just now. In my private lot I am unspeakably happy, loving and beloved. But I am doing little for others”.

Clarah Schumann appears twice in the journals (“a melancholy, interesting looking creature”), and there are also mentions to Harriet Martineau, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Jane Carlyle and Elizabeth Gaskell: “Yesterday the news came of Mrs. Gaskell’s death. She died suddenly while reading aloud to her daughters.” (Nov. 15, 1865) I particularly enjoyed her mention of Sofia Kovalevskaya, whom she met in 1869: “she, a pretty creature with charming modest voice and speech, who is studying Mathematics (by allowance through the aid of Kirchhoff) at Heidelberg.”

In her diaries, the periods where she is writing her novels are always full of self-doubt and agony, and, in the later years, she turned to past entries in her journals for reassurance, every time she needed to believe that she was able to finish a book: “The last day of this month! This evening I have been reading to G. some entries in my note-book of past times in which I recorded my malaise and despair. But it is impossible for me to believe that I have ever been in so unpromising and despairing a state as I now feel” (While writing Romola); “I do not feel very confident that I can make anything satisfactory of Middlemarch. I have need to remember that other things which have been accomplished by me, were begun under the same cloud.” (while writing Middlemarch); “I see on looking back this morning—Christmas Day [1875]—that I really was in worse health and suffered equal depression about Romola—and so far as I have recorded, the same thing seems to be true of Middlemarch” (while writing Daniel Deronda).

More often than not, she worries about slow rate of production (“I’ve only written 256 pages…”), and complains of bodily discomforts and illness. Throughout the diaries, she suffered repeated colds, toothaches, headaches, disordered liver, renal disorder, frequent fits of depression, and anxiety to perform: “Ill with bilious headache, and very miserable about my soul as well as body. George has taken my drama away from me”; “Feeling very ailing-in constant dull pain, which makes all effort burthensome”; “About myself I am in deep depression feeling powerless”; “Felt beaten with sadness”; “Weather still cruel, and my soul in deep gloom”; “Read nothing this morning, being occupied with thinking. Terribly depressed and hopeless”; “It is worthwhile to record my great depression of spirits, that I may remember one more resurrection from the pit of melancholy. And yet what love is given to me! – what abundance of good I possess. All my circumstances are blessed; and the defect is only in my own organism. Courage and effort!

The George Eliot that emerges from these journals is a woman crippled by anxiety, illness, and self-doubt – but one who, also deeply curious and disciplined, went on to write seven novels, numerous essays, poems, novellas, book reviews, nine volumes of letters, and six volumes of diaries.

In these journals, we have access to the raw material of her creative life, in overlapping layers of events: her informal notes and curt jottings, alongside her long re-assessments of previous entries; the poems she read for consolation, alongside her most telling silences.

About the book

  • Cambridge University Press, 1999, 474 p. Goodreads
  • My rating: 5 stars


Ambitious Heights: Writing, Friendship, Love – The Jewsbury Sisters, Felicia Hemans, and Jane Welsh Carlyle, by Norma Clarke (1990)

This book is an account of the interwoven lives of four early Victorian women writers: Felicia Hemans, a successful poet who rivalled Byron in popularity; Maria Jane Jewsbury, an essayist, poet and literary journalist; her sister Geraldine Jewsbury, a novelist, reviewer, and publisher’s reader; and Geraldine’s friend (possibly, romantic friend), Jane Carlyle, the writer of satirical letters which are considered models of the epistolary art.

The book explores their lives as woman writers, as well as their relationships with each other, so as to (I) analyse the ways in which the friendship between Hemans and Maria Jewsbury provides a counterpoint to Geraldine and Jane’s relationship; and (II) to examine the ways in which their writings provide a look into female authorship in the nineteenth century (and, in particular, in the Victorian times).

Clarke seems particularly interested in the way each of the four writers negotiates authorial ambition and social perceptions of womanhood, and how each of them deals with the cultural perception of writing and publication as unwomanly and of intellectual activity in general as masculine. “(…) In the early nineteenth century especially, women with ambitions to become writers faced a complex mixture of permission and prohibition, deriving from their sex, which men were spared.” Clarke then tries to explore the extent to which the forces of permission and prohibition operated on each of the four writers she selected. As Geraldine Jewsbury once wrote, “those who try to make their lot contrary to custom are always broken in the attempt“.

The book makes a good job at stressing the complexities involved in the idea of authorship for women in Victorian times, as well as exposes the double standards that existed for male and female authors. “Women writers who wished to establish themselves in the mainstream cultural world“, writes Clarke, “(…) participated in sustaining the cultural myths which defined woman as weak and man as strong.” Women who wrote trangressed male authority by (I) using the home to write, disregarding their domestic ‘duties’; (II) using the written word and the printed page as a means of self-definition; and (III) competing with male writers in the marketplace, potentially (IV) acquiring financial independence.

In these circumstances, ambition was abjured in women writers: to hide the enormity of the trangression comprised in writing and publishing, they tried to project an image of dutiful, modest, reluctant authors whose writings sprung out of parental admiration, financial distress, or the desire to do good for others. Women writers could never claim ambition publicily, and their writing had to be presented as a means to an end that transcended their own personal interests. “Actively seeking the status of public recognition was to trespass on male territory, which was, in turn, to be proved unnatural“. Further, authority was defined as intrinsically male, and “women who found themselves useing their heads, and thus inevitably challenging male possession of that organ, endangered not male possession but their own femininity“.

These circumstances also influenced the genres in which women chose to write, as well as the style and the content of their writing. Moreover, the writing self women tailored for themselves, argues Clarke, aimed to please the authoritative male gaze. Women writers strove to comform to self-protecting stereotypes, as a way of achieving respectability as authors: “By presenting themselves as helpless and therefore in need of assitance, women reasserted a ‘womanliness’ that had been placed at risk.”

Private feeling and public expression of feeling, as the female authors’ private and public personas, were two spheres strictly divided and kept apart: to Clarke, women writers had to conciliate their authorial drives with the necessity of maintaining an appearance of their own frailty; they had to find a middle ground between the socially imposed necessity of writing as an expression of womanliness and the unwanted invisibility that such an expression would bring, given the perception of everything womanly as something of inferior quality.

In the case of Hemans, in particular, Clarke suggests that she had to project an image of helplessness and artlessness, as though the poems simply came to her without real intellectual exertion. Women could never be a Byronic genius; further, they could never quite fit the image of the romantic poet, with its emphasis on childhood and on feeling over rationalism, as women were already infantilised and diminished by the association with emotion rather than reason. While Wordsworth needed a string of family women to take care of him, Hemans was the one providing alone for her family – nevertheless, the label of helplessness clang to her.

Moreover, Clarke explores the ambivalent stance of the four writers portrayed: Hemans writes odes urging women to abandon ambition; Maria Jane Jewsbury published admonitions warning her younger sister against the business of writing; Geraldine retreated from publishing novels; and Jane Carlyle chose wifely duties household responsibilities over “the vanities of wielding the pen”: “sooner than leave the doll’s house, she tried to triumph within it.”

While the book provides a good introduction to the four writers’ biographies, it also tends to simplify the complexity of the writerly lives of women in the Victorian age, reducing such lives to the black and white struggle between brutal patriarchy and feeble womanhood. It also takes a problematic perspective, by interpreting many aspects of the works of the four writers as mere expressions of the authors’ biographies.

The “mental slide from the work to the woman”, a feature Clarke identifies in nineteenth century literary criticism, is a mistake in which she also incurs. The author reads Maria Jane Jewsbury’s Phantasmagoria (1825), for instance, as a disguised account of female failure, as a reflection of the author’s own insecurities. By reading Hemans’ use of the image of the ‘abandoned wife’ as a reflection of her failed marriage, Clarke not only reduces Hermans’ imaginative play with the public’s taste, her agency in fashioning her public persona, and her clever exploration of the fashionable idea of loss in poetry, but also implies that women are ultimately always writing confessional poetry about themselves.

The book’s hypothesis is that female authorship in the nineteenth century was fractured by the social ideas that (I) personal fulfilment was only possible through married love rather than literary fame; and that (II) the successful woman artist was inevitably lonely, isolated, and ultimately abandoned by men, so that literary ambition and wifely duty were incompatible for women.

By reducing those women’s works to the public account of their lives, and by interpreting those lives on the basis of their literary works, the book reaches the conclusion that none of the four women really achieved moments of personal fulfilment neither as writers nor as private individuals – a rather forced conclusion.

About the book

  • Routledge, 1990, 245 p. Goodreads
  • My rating: 4 stars


Victorian Ghosts in the Noontide: Women Writers and the Supernatural, by Vanessa D. Dickerson (1996)

The book seeks to explore the attraction that writing about the supernatural held for Victorian women. According to the author, women were singularly situated in a realm of spectral indeterminacy: “removed from the power-wielding occupations of the world – law, science, medicine, even the formal administration of religion – yet relegated to the higher realm of moral influence, the position of the nineteenth-century female, as influential as it was, was yet equivocal, ambiguous, marginal, ghostly“.

The author claims that, because Victorian women were denied access to power and were defined as intellectually deficient, their “participation in the revival of supernaturalism, whether as mesmeric subjects, as mediums, or as writers of ghost stories, constituted both expression and exploration of their own spirituality and their ambiguous status as the ‘other’ living in a state of in-betweenness: between the walls of the house, between animal and man, between angel and demon.”

The book’s title alludes to a passage in Thomas Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus (1834): “This is no metaphor, it is a simple scientific fact: we start out of Nothingness, take figure, and are Apparitions; round us, as round the veriest spectre, is Etemity-Ghosts! There are nigh a thousand million walking the earth openly at noontide“. Dickerson argues that this passage exemplifies the use of the ghost image to express the tension between science and spirituality. For her, women, in Victorian times, were ghostly figures, walking openly in the noontide.

The author argues further that women’s belief in the supernatural in the face of scientific and religious criticism came from a “feminine rebellion that stemmed from deep-seated needs for action and self-expression, the urge to communicate, and the longing for public and professional recognition“.

In this vein, the roles of medium and writer allowed women to be “seen, heard, and studied“: both by participating in different forms of pseudoscience (such as mesmerism and spiritualism) and by writing in a genre considered ‘inferior and less literary’ (such as ghost stories), women found a means of expression and a domain of authority that not only evoked a metaphor for their oppression (their ‘ghostly existence’), but also celebrated what was then considered as their ‘feminine powers’ (their intuition, instinct, feeling). “The act of writing a ghost story was for the popular woman writer the creation of a public discourse for voicing feminine concerns”, claims Dickerson, “ghost stories could provide a fitting medium for eruptions of female libidinal energy, of thwarted ambitions, of cramped egos.”

In the first section, the author offers a historical and cultural context, trying to locate this genre of nineteenth-century women’s writing in the context of a more general Victorian obsession with the supernatural combined with the nineteenth century reverence for science, so as to argue for the efficacy of the supernatural genre as a means to feminist empowerment. Because the supernatural short stories were not scrutinized with the same critical attention that novels were, they offered women writers more freedom “to imagine spirit, self, and others in ways that provide a powerful if spectral exegesis of social, cultural, and spiritual realities“.

In the second section, the book explores Victorian ideas about women’s spirituality, as well as the ways women writers employed ghostliness to explore their position in a male-dominated society. Because Victorian culture both revered women’s spirituality and marginalized it as domestic and irrational, “the angel in the house could be a powerful conduit for the spirituality, the mystery, and the supernaturalism that the age craved but science discredited.”

According to the author, women found in the writing of supernatural fiction a means to come to terms with their own invisibility (their ‘ghostliness’) and a means to articulate the male limitations that structured their lives: supernatural fiction afforded them “the opportunity not only to gain a better understanding of those dichotomies and the uses to which they could and could not be put but also to know better the nature of female experience and the feminine self.” Similar arguments have been made about women’s subversive use of Gothic, domestic fiction, and sensationalist fiction as means for female anger, sexual energy, and fantasies of protest and escape (for example, in Elaine Showalter’s A Literature of Their Own).

In the next three sections, the author analyses the use of the supernatural, respectively, in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte & Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, The Lifted Veil by George Eliot, and in Elizabeth Gaskell’s ghost stories.

She argues that Jane Eyre moves through a series of ghostly, enchanted, visionary spaces: “equivocal, strange, indeterminate spaces where Bronte can more intensely and revealingly raise and address questions about the autonomy, will, and spirit of the female of whom society expects silence” and invisibility, as a kind of “ghostliness”. She contends that Jane is herself a kind of ghost, because she hovers unseen on the periphery. Jane’s ghostliness is partly a register of her marginal status, but the supernatural also provides her with a refuge through visionary retreats such as moors, paintings, dreams, and mirrors, into which she withdraws to discover and nurture her own independent spirit.

The author claims that Wuthering Heightsdeals unabashedly with the supernatural as liberation and just expression of the self”; the supernatural as “the sole venue to power, possession, freedom, and self” for women, as a form of ‘spiritual comunion’. For Dickerson, Gothic elements enabled Charlotte and Emily Bronte to explore woman’s ambivalent position in a world that denies or frustrates women’s need for autonomy, power, and action. According to the author, for the Brontes there is no line between rational and supernatural: both are one and the same thing, whereas for George Eliot and Elizabeth Gaskell the line between these two realms is blurred.

In the chapter on George Eliot, Dickerson reads The Lifted Veil as exploring, through its feminized hero’s clairvoyance, the ambiguous social and intellectual position of women in Victorian times: according to the author, Latimer’s “womanish and ghostly” clairvoyance placed him “between the wearying and chilly emptiness of the material and mechanical world of the father and the warmth, comfort, and richness of the spiritual and natural world of the mother” – a ghostly place also occupied by women writers, in the no-(wo)man land in-between the public and private spheres. Such as happened with women writers, Latimer could not use his “powers to move forward in a world that, for all its vaunted respect for the poet, the priest, and the angel in the house, shows itself to be even more respectful of the scientist, the banker, and the heir“. Dickerson reminds us of Eliot’s rationalist instance and her rejection of spiritualism (“Better to be occupied exclusively with the intestinal worms of tortoises than with that”, wrote Eliot in a letter), and highlights the fact that, for her, clairvoyance was related to the ability to feel empathy: the “habit of thinking himself imaginatively into the experience of others”, as Eliot writes in Daniel Deronda.

While in her analyses of Jane Eyre (1847), Wuthering Heights (1847), and The Lifted Veil (1859), Dickerson concentrates on the idea of ghostliness as an expression of invisibility, powerlessness, and displacement, in her analyses of Elizabeth Gaskell’s short stories she focuses on ghostliness as an expression of the power of women’s speech as a means of healing and curse. Moreover, ghosts in Gaskell are seen as an expression of a mind troubled by feelings of guilt, remorse, and the “spiritual anxiety od the Victorian woman”. The author argues further that Gaskell uses the supernatural to explore complex issues of gender power, particularly the relations between women.

Finally, in the fourth section, Dickerson analyses short stories by Charlotte Riddell, Florence Marryat, and Margaret Oliphant, so as to address women’s equivocal relation to material gain. The author claims that, by featuring ghosts seeking restitution and revenge (and, in particular, seeking to restore property to dispossessed women), these stories reflect women’s frustration at their economic dependency. At the same time, by characterising ambitious women as monsters, such stories also reflected and maintained the double standards by which women’s lives were structured in the Victorian age.

My main issue with this book was the fact that the author established her thesis first and then proceeded on cherry picking works which would better support this thesis. Moreover, despite claiming that male authors wrote ghost stories in a different voice, Dickerson does not offer any argument to support this claim and makes no comparison to the uses made of supernatural fiction by male authors. Finally, she construes her concept of ‘ghostliness’ in a broad way, so as to fit her own interpretations of the works she chose – and thus she shies away from really submitting her main thesis to a test.

As a research to explore the particularities of supernatural fiction written by women, this book is, to say the least, distorted and incomplete. However, the book succeeds on a different level: as a free exercise of literary interpretation of the works the author mentions and their relation to the material and social conditions of Victorian women.

About the book

  • University of Missouri, 1996, 184 p. Goodreads
  • My rating: 3,5 stars

That’s all for now, folks. Later, I will continue talking about some other nonfiction trends I noticed in my reading this year.

Yours truly,


William Worchester Churchill. Woman Reading on a Settee, circa 1910.

4 thoughts on “My Year in Nonfiction 2019 | Victorian women writers

  1. Im curious about the missing years in George Eliot’s journal. You say she might have removed them or her husband might have done this to preserve her reputation. What was happening in her life 1849 to mid-1854 that would have been so controversial or damaging?


  2. Interesting. The point you make in the second section about women writers taking market share away from males reminds me of one of the central arguments in George Gissing’s The Odd Women, in which two feminist pioneers strive to provide young women with a career that would liberate them from domestic servitude; they too are met with that argument – theirs is the domestic sphere, not the job market.


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