The Middle Class Novels of Arnold Bennett and Marie Corelli: Realising the Ideals and Emotions of Late Victorian Women

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This book builds on the large volume of existing literature that details the social, moral and economic context in which women of this era operated. It further complements the smaller body of existing writing that probes the interior lives of women. However, where as these latter works use personal documents, such as diaries and letters, to gain insight into the interior lives of mainly upper middle- and upper-class women, this study concentrates on women from the lower and middle levels of the middle classes and on those from the upper rungs of the lower classes.


“. . . offers an effective argument for the particular use of the novels of Bennett and Corelli, especially for their depiction of the ‘new woman’ figure which brought vital issues concerning women’s position in society to the attention of a wider audience.” – Prof. Pat Jalland, Australian National University

“The systematic link of fiction to social history has been hitherto left largely to literary scholars— notwithstanding the impact and challenges of post modernism. Sharon Crozier-De Rosa’s new study is a bold and successful venture by a trained historian to employ as a central resource a source that not a few historians still regard with deep seated reservations. Using the novels of Arnold Bennett and Marie Corelli as primary evidence, she sets out to explore and chart the ‘interior lives’ of single middle class women in Late Victorian England and the Edwardian years.” – Dr. Janet Phillips, Flinders University

“Sharon Crozier-De Rosa’s new book is a valuable addition to the steadily expanding number of studies re-evaluating Bennett’s position as a major twentieth-century writer. As a social historian interested in the history of mentalities and in cultural history she opens up previously unexplored areas of Bennett’s texts. Interested in reading novels of the period 1890-1914 for what they reveal about what motivates the individual and collective lives and thoughts of middle class, often unmarried, women Crozier-De Rosa is able to gain insights that are not readily accessible from more conventional historical documents, such as legal documents, newspapers, diaries, letters, and Parliamentary reports. In choosing Bennett as a case study for understanding the perceptions and emotions of middle class women, she is motivated in part by a reaction against Virginia Woolf’s damaging 1924 ‘Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown’ essay which labelled his writing as a shopkeeper’s view of history. To Crozier-De Rosa this criticism reads as a commendation of Bennett’s novels as offering literary insights into the lives of ordinary women.

. . . The idea of the New Woman features large in the book and Crozier-De Rosa does full justice to this complex concept as it developed in the 1890s. She argues that whereas the newspapers and journals of the day created a one-dimensional stereotypical figure, Bennett attempted to convey something of her humanity and inner psychological processes. Considerable attention is paid to the heroine of Bennett’s 1911 novel, Hilda Lessways, in which Hilda represents many of the important social tensions between the old and the new. Crozier-De Rosa demonstrates the struggle of one fiercely independent mind to achieve a sense of individual freedom outside domesticity whilst continually being drawn back to conform to society’s more traditional expectations.” – Dr John Shapcott, Bennett Society Newsletter

Table of Contents

Foreword by Professor Pat Jalland
Section A Introduction
1. A History of Women’s Emotions Using the Novels of Bennett and Corelli
2. Using Fiction as a Historical Source
Section B What ‘to do’
3. Learning for Life
4. The Business of Domesticity
5. Employment and Careers
Section C The Spiritual Side of Life
6. Religion and Spirituality
Section D Romantic Relationships
7. Romantic Love
8. Sexual Desire
Conclusion ‘Forward! But Not Too Fast!’

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