Individualism, the New Woman, and marriage in the novels of Mary Ward, Sarah Grand, and Lucas Malet

Tapanat Khunpakdee

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis focuses upon the relationship between individualism, the New Woman, and marriage in the works of Mary Ward, Sarah Grand, and Lucas Malet. In examining how these three popular novelists of the late nineteenth century responded to the challenge of female individualism, this thesis traces the complex afterlife of John Stuart Mill’s contribution to Victorian feminism. The thesis evaluates competing models of liberty and the individual – freedom and self-development – in the later nineteenth century at the outset and traces how these differing models work their way through the response of popular writers on the Woman Question.

Ward’s Robert Elsmere (1888) and Marcella (1894) posit an antagonism between the New Woman’s individualism and marriage. She associates individualism with selfishness, which explicates her New Woman characters’ personal and ideological transformation leading to marriage. The relinquishing of individualism suggests Ward’s ambivalent response to the nineteenth-century Woman Question.

While Grand’s The Heavenly Twins (1893) and The Beth Book (1897) prioritise individualism over marriage when the husband proves immoral or violent, Malet’s unconventional representations or marriage in The Wages of Sin (1890) and The History of Sir Richard Calmady (1901) articulate her advocacy of female individualism. Malet’s New Woman heroines are free to carry on with the purity politics and sexual inversion which respectively characterise their individualism.

Thus, the fact that Ward, Grand, and Malet focussed on the notion of female individualism in response to contemporaneous debates about marriage and the New Woman demonstrates its significance. Yet, based on their varied perspectives – Ward’s conservative rejection, Grand’s conditional endorsement, and Malet’s definite promotion – female individualism emerges as a still evolving concept. Reflecting the time in which they were written, these novels anticipated positive change in women’s situation while acknowledging that the New Woman, once married, must sacrifice her individualism unless her marriage proves to be companionate.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Livesey, Ruth, Supervisor
  • Roberts, Adam, Advisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Jul 2013
Publication statusUnpublished - 2013


  • individualism
  • the New Woman
  • marriage
  • Mary Ward
  • Sarah Grand
  • Lucas Malet

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