The vicar's daughter and the goddess of tennis: cultural geographies of sporting femininity and bodily practice in Edwardian suburbia

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The 1919 Wimbledon Ladies final between Suzanne Lenglen and Dorothea Lambert Chambers has been treated as a decisive break not just in women's tennis, but in sporting femininity more generally. Lenglen has conventionally been seen as a harbinger of modern sporting femininity, particularly as expressed in her dress, her style of tennis and her physical athleticism. By contrast, Chambers has come to represent an older femininity, constrained by social convention and restricted by dress-codes. In this formulation, Edwardian women’s tennis is seen as a trivial suburban pastime. This paper re-evaluates this distinction through an analysis of the complexities of the cultural geographies of the 1919 final, through a detailed examination of the physical and mental characteristics of Chambers’ approach to tennis, and through a reassessment of the significance of early twentieth century London suburbia as a milieu for female sporting development. It provides a critical reappraisal of Pierre Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus and hexis, arguing that Bourdieu’s formulation approaches a more or less deterministic theory of embodied practice, in which social codes and conventions become naturalized in particular movements and dispositions. Chambers’ emphases on repetitive practicing and mental preparation of tactics indicate a rather different relationship between social context and bodily movement in Edwardian women’s tennis, one that reasserts the significance of agency and deliberation, and which chimes with recent work in human geography that explores the inter-relationships between the symbolic and the embodied. The paper also highlights the generative and potentially progressive capacities of Edwardian suburban sporting culture.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-207
Number of pages21
JournalCultural Geographies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2011


  • tennis
  • suburbs
  • practice
  • Pierre Bourdieu
  • embodiment
  • habitus
  • femininity

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