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  • Published: 3 Aug 2016
  • DOI: 10.4324/9781138641839-HOF2-1


  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • From Wollstonecraft to Austen
  • The Brontës
  • George Eliot
  • Sensation writing
  • Poetry
  • ‘New Woman’ fiction
  • Conclusion
  • References

Feminism and Literature in the Long Nineteenth Century


The literature of 1776–1928 inevitably reflects a wide range of responses to women’s experiences, especially of home and family. Marriage is the key theme of the novel of the long nineteenth century, which records a questioning of society’s assumptions about the appropriateness and availability of marriage, especially for middle-class women with aspirations to fulfil themselves in other ways. This essay focuses first on the themes addressed by the canonical women novelists, from Austen to Eliot, as they explored the frustrations and limitations of marriage for their protagonists, and then considers the bolder challenges posed by ‘sensation’ and ‘New Woman’ novelists, and poets such as Emily Dickinson. Literature, above all, was a place where women could explore the intimate details of their emotions and social interactions, imagining new relationships and life choices, while also protesting against the injustices they saw around them.