• The Lady Critic: Women of Letters and Critical Authority in British Periodicals, 1854-1908

      Mitchell, Sally, 1937-; Wells, Susan, 1947-; Logan, Peter Melville, 1951-; Phegley, Jennifer (Temple University. Libraries, 2009)
      This study considers how and why the established histories of criticism fail to recognize the Victorian woman critic. Although many women wrote critical essays for Victorian periodicals, the practice of anonymous publication and the gendered coding of certain genres ensured that the image of the critic was masculine for Victorian readers. And despite the ongoing work of The Wellesley Index to Victorian Periodicals, the growing field of periodicals research, and forty years of feminist scholarship, the Victorian critic remains, by and large, a male figure for us as well. In order to understand how women critics justified their authority and negotiated the gendered assumptions of critical discourse over the second half of the nineteenth century, this project explores the rhetorical strategies used by four prolific women journalists: Margaret Oliphant, Anne Mozley, Julia Wedgwood, and Anne Thackeray Ritchie. These case studies demonstrate how women critics defined their role in response to an expanding reading public, conservative gender ideology, the professionalization of criticism, changing aesthetics, and the establishment of English as a university discipline. They also reveal that both anonymous and signed women critics addressed these contentious issues to subtly undermine prejudices about gender and genre. In addition to demonstrating the feminist agenda of these (sometimes conservative) critics, this study also seeks to complicate the image of the moralizing woman critic symbolized by Mrs. Grundy. Moral rhetoric was common among both male and female critics in the nineteenth century, and this project argues that moral considerations are not necessarily antithetical to artistic ones in nineteenth-century discourse. We must begin to view women's critical arguments in their full context of political, aesthetic, and professional concerns if we truly wish to understand what was at stake for Victorian critics and readers. Thus, by presenting a fuller portrait of these individual women authors, this study not only critiques the gendered definitions of genre that continue to shape literary history, but also revises our understanding of Victorian critical theories.