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Self-Harm in New Woman Writing

Alexandra Gray

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Traces Victorian self-harm through an engagement with literary fiction

Self-Harm in New Woman Writing offers a trans-disciplinary study of Victorian literature, culture and medicine through engagement with the recurrent trope of self-harm in writing by and about the British New Woman. Focusing on self-starvation, excessive drinking and self-mutilation, this study explores narratives of female resistance to Victorian patriarchy embedded in the work of both canonical and largely unknown women writers of the 1880s and 1890s, including Mary Angela Dickens and Victoria Cross. The book argues that the conditions of modernity now associated with self-harm in twentieth-century psychiatry (but beginning at the Fin de Siècle) provided the socio-cultural backdrop for a surge of interest in self-harm as a site of imaginative exploration at a time when women’s role in society was rapidly changing.

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1. Saintly Self-Harm: The Victorian Religious Context
2. Beyond the Fleshly Veil: Self-Starvation in the New Woman Novel
3. Deconstructing the Drunkard’s Path: Drunken Bodies in New Woman Fiction
4. Damaging the Body Politic: Self-Mutilation as Spectacle

Works Cited

About the Author

Alexandra Gray is a Sessional Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Portsmouth. She is the co-editor of a forthcoming collection of academic essays on the late-Victorian-and-Edwardian woman writer Lucas Malet, and the author of forthcoming articles and essays on the New Woman, nineteenth-century medical history and the female orphan figure in Victorian fiction.


Alexandra Gray's fascinating study is a welcome investigation of the paradoxical link between radical feminist thought and physical self-harm in fin-de-siècle writing. Ranging widely over imaginative and scientific sources, it provides an invaluable contribution to our understanding of that perennially interesting and richly rewarding Victorian figure, the New Woman.

- Professor Gail Cunningham, Kingston University

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