31 October 2012

Nicola Barker: Clear: A Transparent Novel (2004)

Nicola Barker's Clear: A Transparent Novel is a reference to endurance artist David Blaine's Above the Below performance, in which in 2003 he lived on only water for forty-four days in a transparent plastic box suspended thirty feet over the left bank of the River Thames between City Hall and Tower Bridge.

After her novel Behindlings (2002) Barker was writing Darkmans (2007) when she became distracted by a very negative comment Catherine Bennett wrote in the Guardian about Blaine, so Barker decided to write this book, which she did in just three months. She couldn't understand all the hatred Blaine had generated. I'm a little unsure about Above the Below as a comment on consumerism/capitalism, but I can understand Barker's concern, and I very much appeciate her interest in marginal characters.

Clear is narrated by Adair Graham MacKenny, a 28-year-old who works in an office near the Blaine box, and who sees the attraction as an opportunity to pick up girls. And then he meets Aphra, a fascinating young woman with an interest in Tupperware and who has an olfactory sense so acute that she can tell a person's diet simply by smelling their shoes.

Blaine was inspired to perform his dangerous act by Kafka's 'A Hunger Artist', and the fact that Adair checks this short story out to have an understanding of Blaine's actions certainly figures. What doesn't figure as much, though, is the bookending of Jack Schaefer's western novel Shane, as I can't see too many similarities between the book's eponymous outsider hero and David Blaine.

Nope. But perhaps I can see why Boyd Tonkin called this 'the hippest literary novel of the year' (my italics). Like, it's literally totally crammed with hip cultural references and white space.





This is just to indicate a pause for breath. Yup.




?!






Blah blah blah blah.

30 October 2012

Stéphane Brizé's Mademoiselle Chambon (2009)

In this wonderfully understated film (and I mean that literally) the music – notably Franz von Vescey's Valse Triste – has to be more articulate than the characters. Stéphane Brizé's Mademoiselle Chambon is adapted from Éric Holder's novel of the same name, and stars Vincent Lindon as builder Jean (the father of the boy he takes to school), and Sandrine Kiberlain as Véronique, the sophisticated supply teacher. On the surface, Jean and Véronique have little in common, although their passion for music and building (respectively) forms a bridge that joins the two and triggers extremely intense emotions that they know shouldn't be expressed. The film expresses itself through this non-expression.

The scene in which Véronique plays her violin in front of the family group gathered for Jean's father's (probably final) birthday – the would-be home wrecker whose very performance informs Jean's wife of the love between the two – is scarcely credible realistically, but we suspend our disbelief as we listen to the instrument screaming Véronique's love, and watch Jean's spellbound response as the birthday party dissolves into irrelevance.

The place where the story is set isn't mentioned, and in any case knowledge of it would detract from the central idea: the film isn't really even about two star-crossed lovers – it is about the impossibility of possibilities: the paradox of reality.

The obvious reference is David Lean's Close Encounter, and perhaps Marquerite Duras's novella Moderato Cantabile, although – probably because of the haunting music and the impossibilities – I was also strongly reminded of Bo Widerberg's Elvira Madigan.

Unforgettable.

The novel Mademoiselle Chambon:
–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Éric Holder: Mademoiselle Chambon

29 October 2012

Anthony Hervey (c. 1796–1850)

'In Memory
of
ANTHONY HERVEY.
He died in the triumph of faith,
on the 26th of March, 1850.
AGED 54 YEARS.
His last word was "Victory."
Hebrews 6 Ch. 17, 18, 19, 20 Ver.
He was the author of the "Sherwood Gipsy","
and was engaged as the humble and devoted
Missionary amongst the Aged inmates of
COLLINS', and LABRAY'S
Alms-houses in Nottingham.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Reader! the monumental stone we raise,
Is to the Saviour's, not the sinner's praise.
Sin was the whole that he could call his own,
His good was all derived from Christ alone;
His conflicts, pains, and griefs to sin he owed,
His conquering faith, and patience, Christ bestowed,
Oh! may'st thou too obtain like precious faith
To smile in anguish, and rejoice in death.'

According to Robert Mellors in Old Nottingham Suburbs: Then and Now (1914), Hervey earned a living as a framework knitter in Carrington and died in Wilford.

The Sherwood Gipsy (again according to Mellors) went through forty-seven editions, not all of which bore exactly the same title, although the longest appears to be The Sherwood Gipsy: or, The blessed results of the meeting of the superintendent of Sion Chapel Sunday School, Nottingham, and a gipsy girl, on Sherwood Forest, near that town, on Sunday morning, June 9, 1844. The gipsy girl was seventeen-year-old Matilda Harrison, and the narrator met her on Mapperley Common, where there was a gipsy encampment. Hervey gave her a copy of the Bible and some religious tracts. The girl later wrote to him telling him she'd been converted, although he learned of her death from consumption shortly after.

The first edition was in 1845, although the British Library's copy is dated the following year – and has seventeen pages and is in twelvemo (or duodecimo if you prefer). I'm grateful to Rowena Edlin–White for drawing my attention to Anthony Hervey and his grave in Nottingham General Cemetery.

Writers and literary associations in Nottingham General Cemetery:

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Robert Goodacre (1777–1835)
Ruth Bryan (1805–1860)
Sarah Ann Agnes Turk (1859–1927)
Annie Matheson (1853–1924)
Josiah Gilbert (1814–1892)
Charles Bell Taylor (1829–1909)
James Prior's Parents
Ann Taylor (1782–1866)
Robert Millhouse (1788-1839)
Henry Hogg (1831-74)

Charles Bell Taylor (1829–1909)

 

'IN MEMORY OF
CHARLES BELL TAYLOR
M.D. F.R.C.S.E.
BORN 1829, DIED 1909

A GENEROUS BENEFACTOR OF THE POOR,
A DEVOTED FRIEND OF ANIMALS, AN OPPONENT
OF EVERY FORM OF CRUELTY AND OPRESSION,
AND A FEARLESS CHAMPION OF LIBERTY.'
 
Dr Charles Bell Taylor was an opthalmic surgeon born in Nottingham, where he practised for most of his life. He was a prominent opponent of the Contagious Diseases Acts, which permitted the arrest and internal examination of prostitutes, for sexually transmitted diseases, in certain areas of the country. He was also opposed to vivisection and compulsory vaccination. He ate only two meals a day, didn't smoke or drink (even tea and coffee), owned a collection of bicycles and tricycles and cycled to work every day.

Taylor published a number of lectures, of which these are a few examples:

The Statistical Results of the Contagious Diseases Acts ... shewing their total failure in a sanitary point of view. Being a paper read before the Medical Society of London, etc. (1872)

Dangers de la réglementation et difficulté de reconnaître la syphilis chez la femme [c. 1877]

Lectures on diseases of the Eye (1888)

For Pity's Sake, published by the London & Provincial Anti-Vivisection Society in 1908.

Taylor's grave is in Nottingham General Cemetery.

Writers and literary associations in Nottingham General Cemetery:

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Robert Goodacre (1777–1835)
Ruth Bryan (1805–1860)
Sarah Ann Agnes Turk (1859–1927)
Annie Matheson (1853–1924)
Josiah Gilbert (1814–1892)
Anthony Hervey (c. 1796–1850)
James Prior's Parents
Ann Taylor (1782–1866)
Robert Millhouse (1788-1839)
Henry Hogg (1831-74)

28 October 2012

James Prior's Parents

I've so far been unable to locate the grave of the novelist James Prior (born James Prior Kirk) in Bingham, although by chance I came across his parents' grave in the General Cemetery in Nottingham today. Interestingly, I think, his mother died when he was still a child. His father, also James Kirk, was a straw hat manufacturer in Nottingham, and on his death in 1880 Prior helped in the family business for a year until two of his sisters took it over. The inscription reads:

'SACRED
TO THE MEMORY OF
SARAH JANE, THE BELOVED WIFE OF
JAMES KIRK,
WHO DEPARTED THIS LIFE
DECEMBER 3RD. 1861,
AGED 46 YEARS
 
A LOVING WIFE, A PRUDENT MOTHER AND A FAITHFUL FRIEND.

ALSO THE ABOVE
JAMES KIRK,
WHO DIED APRIL 7TH. 1880
AGED 59 YEARS.

"AND HE WAS NOT, FOR GOD TOOK HIM."'



Writers and literary associations in Nottingham General Cemetery:

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Robert Goodacre (1777–1835)
Ruth Bryan (1805–1860)
Sarah Ann Agnes Turk (1859–1927)
Annie Matheson (1853–1924)
Josiah Gilbert (1814–1892)
Anthony Hervey (c. 1796–1850)
Charles Bell Taylor (1829–1909)
Ann Taylor (1782–1866)
Robert Millhouse (1788-1839)
Henry Hogg (1831-74)

25 October 2012

James Prior's Forest Folk: A Novel Construction of the New Woman and the New Man: Introduction

Introduction
 
The novelist James Prior was born James Prior Kirk in Mapperley Road, Nottingham in 1851 to Sarah and James Kirk, his father having a millinery concern in the city of Nottingham. He went to a preparatory school run by the Goodalls before going to a school run by a man named Porter for ten years, and then began working for a solicitor: his father intended him to join the legal profession, but instead Prior spent a great deal of time studying languages and literature. He left the legal profession following a major argument with his father, but his intention to pursue a career in writing initially proved fruitless. He taught for a short time, attempted a degree, but problems with his eyes, including intervals of temporary blindness, put paid to any future career prospects.1

Prior was under thirty when his father died in 1880, and after continuing the family business for a year left for Uppingham, Rutland, to help an uncle in difficulties with his farm, but in the process Prior lost a considerable amount of money, presumably inherited from his father. By the time of his permanent move to the small Nottinghamshire market town of Bingham with his wife Lily and two daughters in the early 1890s, he had already written a book of short stories – Three Shots from a Popgun (1880) – and three plays – Don Pedro the Cruel (1882) and John Smith of London and Live and Let Live (both published in one volume in 1883).2 All failed to bring Prior any commercial success or critical acclaim. It was not until after his first two novels, Renie (1895) and Ripple and Flood (1897), that he began to gain recognition.3 He published four more novels: Forest Folk (1901), Hyssop (1904), A Walking Gentleman (1907) and Fortuna Chance (1910).3

All of the published novels are set in the East Midlands, predominantly in Nottinghamshire, and reveal a considerable interest in and knowledge of local history and local working-class characters. Forest Folk, his most well-known book, was a modest success and is a good example of Prior's use of the Nottinghamshire dialect and of the countryside. It is set in the early nineteenth century when Luddism was at its height, and takes place in and around the Nottinghamshire village of Blidworth. But Fortuna Chance was the last book of Prior's to be published: two later novels – 'November' and 'Loosestrife' – remained in manuscript stage.5



1 Jean Anabel–Cooper, 'James Prior – An Appreciation', Nottinghamshire Countryside Volume 26, No. 1, 1965, pp. 23– 25.

2 James Prior, Three Shots from a Popgun (London: Remington, 1880)
–––––, Don Pedro the Cruel: A Historical Tragedy (London: Hamilton, Adams, 1882);
–––––, John Smith of London: A Comedy in Five Acts and Live and Let Live: A Comedy in One Act (Nottingham: James Prior, 1883).

3 James Prior, Renie (London: Hutchinson, 1895);
–––––, Ripple and Flood (London: Hutchinson, 1897).

4 James Prior, Forest Folk (London: Heinemann, 1901; repr. Nottingham: The Bromley Press, 1946);
–––––, Hyssop (London: Heinemann, 1904);
–––––, A Walking Gentleman: A Novel (London: Constable, 1907);
–––––, Fortuna Chance (London: Constable, 1910).

5 Ivory Buchan, 'James Prior: An Appreciation', Nottinghamshire Countryside, July 1941, pp. 8–9.



Prior may in large part have lived for his pen, but he certainly did not live by it. Census returns for 1891 (a short time before his move to Bingham) show him living with his wife and two baby daughters in the neigbouring village of Radcliffe on Trent. He is listed as 'living on his own means', although these means inevitably began to dwindle. Perhaps an indication of this is in his poem 'Girl and Woman', written in 1914 in the unpublished 'Canticles by Vacuus' shortly after the death of his wife, where the dead narrator Lily speaks of 'giving cheerfully out of a scanty store'.6 For his contributions to literature Prior was given a small civil pension, but a mixture of circumstances conspired to destin him to oblivion. He was shy and retiring and a strong indication of his nature is revealed in a letter of 1919 declining an invitation to give a talk on an unspecified subject. Writing to W. A. Briscoe, he first thanks him for his 'attack upon the lethargy' of his publishers and then exclaims: 'But to lecture! even "talk" publicly! A mild-mannered man like myself, only accustomed to raise my voice authoritatively in the bosom of his complaisant family!'. He continues to give his self-effacing excuses:

'I simply shouldn't know how to do it. I know that you will say I should only have to stand & stutter, but I should not be sure of the stutter; & as for the standing, probably in my blind eagerness [...] I should plunge straight down among the audience.'7

There is more than a hint of Prior's sense of humour in the letter, indicating a spontaneity that some critics have suggested is lacking in his narrators. Although the local dialect of his characters' dialogues sparkle with wit and energy in the novels, his narrative style perhaps bears too much of a strained formality out of keeping with the new century. Prior said that his writing probably came from his father, who had 'a gravely exact way of expressing himself with a pen'.7 Publishers were no longer interested. The James Prior Memorial Committee was set up shortly after his death and such writers as J. M. Barrie, John Buchan and Eden Phillpotts lavished great praises on his work. Despite the irony of Prior being a teetotal Methodist, the Forest Folk pub was built in Blidworth, incorporating a memorial room with a stained glass window in his honour.8 But his books have remained out of print for many years. Prior is now unknown apart from among a few regional novel enthusiasts and local historians, and there is almost no critical work on him.



6 James Prior, Nottinghamshire Archives Office, M263, 17 November 1919.

7 S[tephen] Fisher, James Prior (Nottingham: James Prior Memorial Committee, [1917(?)]), p. 3.

8 Gordon Wright and Brian J. Curtis, The Inns and Pubs of Nottinghamshire: The Stories Behind the Names (West Bridgford: Nottinghamshire County Council, 1995), p. 16.



Moving to the dissertation itself, my principal intention is to show that there are correspondences between James Prior's novel Forest Folk, and New Woman and New Man representations at the fin de siècle and beyond. The dissertation is divided into three chapters.

In Chapter One, 'The Fin-de-Siècle New Woman in Context', I shall begin by exploring the nature of representations of the New Woman both during and after this period. I shall make use of several secondary works which provide information on the fictional construct that is the New Woman. Jenni Calder's Women and Marriage in Victorian Britain shows the changing roles of women throughout the Victorian era, commenting on events leading up to and including the New Woman. Elaine Showalter's Sexual Anarchy and Sally Ledger's The New Woman both give further focuses on the time before and during Prior's books, indicating exactly what the 'anarchy' consisted of and how it manifested itself. Both books examine specific texts relating to the New Woman. Elaine Marks's Bicycles, Bangs, and Bloomers focuses on the stereotyping of the New Woman in the media. The series of essays in Angelique Robinson and Chris Willis's The New Woman in Fiction and in Fact provide the most recent research in the field. All of these secondary works give a different idea of the various forms the New Woman took, and so help towards establishing a definition. With the information in these secondary texts I then draw on a number of primary texts which incorporate representations of the New Woman and the New Man. These include novels which feature different aspects of the New Woman question, such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Herland, Kate Chopin's The Awakening, George Gissing's The Odd Women, Mary Cholmondeley's Red Pottage, and Ménie Muriel Dowie's Gallia. Because of her particular similarities to Prior's work, Olive Schreiner's extended essay Woman and Labour forms a common thread throughout the three chapters. Gender inversion and androgyny were predominant in New Woman novels and I draw a parallel between them and those in Prior's work, although I go on to suggest that Prior's New Woman is very different from conventional New Woman representations. It is the similarities and the differences that are important to this dissertation.

Chapter Two is called 'Prior's New Woman', where I shall look at Forest Folk in some detail, examining the correspondences between working-class Nell Rideout and representations of the New Woman in literature in and around that period, notably in that of George Egerton and Olive Schreiner. Here I make clear that such anarchy as was seen in Chapter One is very much in the foreground of Prior's novels, and examples from Forest Folk underline this. My argument, as already stated, is that Prior introduces a very different New Woman. Whereas conventional New Woman representations of the time are middle class, Prior's are working class, sometimes with gipsy blood, or having the qualities of benign witches, as is the case with Nell. Under the influence of Borrow in particular, Prior transforms the mannish Girton girl of so many fin de siècle punch caricatures of the New Woman into a timeless young woman with a broad Nottinghamshire accent and with 'masculine' behaviour. There is an obvious parallel with this behaviour and that of her counterpart in conventional New Woman fiction. Prior welcomes the gipsy and the witch as the embodiment of his understanding of bisexuality and almost seems to suggest that they should be seen as the saviours of mankind.

Chapter Three is entitled 'Prior's New Man' and directly follows on from the word of the last paragraph because mankind, rather than womankind, is where Prior believes the problem lies. In Prior's novels there is also some psychological evolution on the part of the male towards the 'New Man', a term about which there has been very little written and which I shall define and investigate here. Patricia Marks gives examples of satirical representations of the New Man in periodicals in the years leading up to the close of the nineteenth century. But it is probably Olive Schreiner who named him as a phenomenon to be taken seriously in the later Woman and Labour (1911), indicating an ideal, equal partner. This New Man not only closely resembles Prior's New Man but also our own contemporary understanding of the term. George Egerton's characters from Keynotes and Discords also serve as similar parallels. Prior's gipsies – along with the 'witch' Nell in Forest Folk – represent a fusion of male and female which Prior sees as necessary to a civilisation in which man and woman should cohabit as friends and partners. My argument is that it is the male in particular who has not discovered the key to free himself from his prison of gender consciousness, although the New Woman has the key: her teaching can unlock him from the prison. Equally important for Prior, though, is a harmonious relationship between not only man and woman but also working class and middle class, symbolised here by Nell and Arthur, and Lois and Tant. And as dialect in Forest Folk is such an important part in the definition of what it is to be working class, I stress the importance of it.

My Conclusion attempts to set Forest Folk in context, sum up Prior's achievements in it, and also suggests the principal reason for Prior's present obscurity.

In the New Woman, Ledger adopts Michel Foucault's brief use of the expressions 'dominant discourse' and 'reverse discourse' to explore the warring patriarchal and New Woman discourses. I borrow this usage in Chapter One because the labels act as a convenient, albeit rather inexact, generalization over a number of diverse texts: the New Woman, however different in her various guises, was still a force against the dominant patriarchy. However, when discussing Forest Folk in the following two chapters, I find it more appropriate to be more specific about the several principal discourses present in the book: it is far more coherent to deal with several discourses in a single text than in a number of texts. And certainly the reality of discourse, as Foucault says, is rather more complicated:

'There is not, on the one side, a discourse of power, and opposite it, another discourse that runs counter to it. Discourses are tactical elements or blocks operating in the field of force relations; there can exist different and even contradictory discourses witin the same strategy; they can, on the contrary, circulate without changing their form from one strategy to another, opposing strategy.9

It is by examining the various conflicting discourses in Forest Folk that I intend to arrive at a fuller understanding of the text, of what Prior is saying.



9 Michel Foucault, The Will to Knowledge: The History of Sexuality: Volume I (as The History of Sexuality: Volume I, An Introduction (London: Lane, 1979; repr. Penguin, 1998), pp. 101–02.


The links below are to the posts I've made on James Prior:

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
James Prior's Forest Folk (dissertation): Introduction
James Prior's Forest Folk (dissertation): Chapter One
James Prior's Forest Folk (dissertation): Chapter Two
James Prior's Forest Folk (dissertation): Chapter Three
James Prior's Forest Folk (dissertation): Conclusion
The Grave of James Prior (1851–1922) in Bingham
James Prior's Parents' Grave, Nottingham
James Prior: Three Shots from a Popgun (1880)

James Prior's Forest Folk: A Novel Construction of the New Woman and the New Man: Chapter One

CHAPTER ONE

The Fin-de-Siècle New Woman in context
Broadly speaking, the 'woman question' was concerned with the rights of women in society, although there was no consensus about the exact nature of the question. As Claire Buck claims:

'No single cultural myth prevailed, and the idea of "Woman"; her "mission", her "sphere" and her "influence" became a site of struggle where competing ideologies strove for dominance. Some commentators challenged the constraints placed upon middle-class women's loves and argued for greater vocational and educational opportunity; others argued passionately that women and men should operate in separate spheres of existence.'1

In 1792, in the seminal feminist work A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Mary Wollstonecraft wrote about marriage, and the limits of women's education and work. These subjects and others were to be addressed later in the next century. The 'woman question' grew more important as the nineteenth century wore on and became the theme of two important poems: Alfred Tennyson's The Princess of 1847 (education) and Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh of 1857 (women's independence). Martha Vicinus says that 'job opportunities, marriage laws, female emigration, and education were only some of the issues debated at the time'.2 The 1851 census shows that there were 400,000 more women in the population than men – and this number was to increase over the years, with obvious implications for power relations if the franchise was extended to both sexes.

Then the fin de siècle brought the New Woman, also described by other writers as a vague concept: Peter Keating says 'New Woman novelists did not constitute a school of writers in any formal sense', and Lyn Pykett describes her as 'a Protean figure', going on to claim:  'The [i.e. the real] New Woman did not exist.'3 She was a constantly shifting, literary and journalistic construct as distinct from a wholly coherent reality. But she was also an increasingly acknowledged, and increasingly threatening, part of the female Zeitgeist, dangerous enough to be seen as 'a threat to the status quo', and a threat to marriage in particular.4 Along with the issues that Vicinus cites above, other questions raised by the New Woman argument included the extension of the franchise, sexual autonomy, and independent (i.e. unchaperoned) mobility. In George Meredith's The Egoist (1879) 'the classic Victorian male image of the word' is evident when Sir Willoughby imagines Clara waiting at home for him to return from his 'masculine pursuits'.5 It was viewpoints like this that the New Woman discourse seriously attacked. However multi-faceted the New Woman might be, she was questioning the raison d'être of the patriarchal order. Emboldened women writers even dared to make a 'frank depiction of issues relating to sexuality, including venereal disease, the sexual double standard, and the dire consequences of women's ignorance about sexual issues before marriage'.6


1 Claire Buck, ed., Bloomsbury Guide to Women's Literature (London: Bloomsbury, 1992), p. 1146.

2 Martha Vicinus, ed., A Widening Sphere: Changing Roles for Victorian Women (London: Century, 1990), p. ix.

3 Peter Keating, The Haunted Study: A Social History of the English Novel 1875–1914 (London: Secker & Warburg, 1989), p. 189;
Lyn Pykett, Foreword, in The New Woman in Fiction and in Fact: Fin-de-Siècle Feminisms, ed. by Angelique Richardson and Chris Willis (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001), pp. xi–xii (p. xi).

4 Sally Ledger, The New Woman: Fiction and Feminism at the Fin de Siècle (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997), p. 11. (All below references to this book simply refer to 'Ledger'.)

5 Jenni Calder, Women and Marriage in Victorian Fiction (London: Thames & Hudson, 1976), p. 184.

6 Carolyn Christensen Nelson, British Women Fiction Writers of the 1890s, ed. by Herbert Sussman, English Authors Series, 533 (New York: Twayne, 1996), p. 4.


As I stated in the Introduction, a convenient way to view the situation here is to see the traditional patriarchal (and predominantly middle-class) argument as the 'dominant discourse', and the modern fin-de-siècle voice of the New Woman as a 'reverse discourse' fighting the dominant. Eliza Lynn Linton's was one of the strongest voices against the reverse discourse, exaggeratedly describing a 'Wild Woman' who, Ledger states, 'opposed marriage, who vociferously demanded political rights, and who sought "absolutely personal independence coupled with supreme power over men"'.7 In 1887 the New Woman 'type' was seen as a 'feminine Frankenstein'.8 However, it is important to note that the expression 'New Woman' was not actually used until 1894 – first by Sarah Grand (without the capital letters), and then several times a few months later by Ouida (with the vital identifying capitals).9

It is perhaps easy to understand the fears. Elaine Showalter quotes Gissing's observation that sexual codes in the 1880s and 1890s were falling apart, and also quotes Karl Miller's assertion that 'men became women. Women became men. Gender and country were put in doubt. The single life was found to harbour two sexes and two nations.'10 It was this perceived gender anarchy which periodicals, particularly via cartoons, attacked in their representations of the New Woman. To the patiarchal world of Punch and the like, the New Woman was certainly real enough to threaten the dominant discourse. One strategy of this discourse is to attempt to negate the reverse discourse by satire, but paradoxically the reinforcement of identifiers such as 'New Woman' has the effect of reification.

The satirical representations of the New Woman in Punch are typical of the time in their depictions of gender reversal: in one cartoon, two confident young women wearing ties and other rather 'masculine' clothes sit in the foreground smoking cigarettes. One says to a timid-looking man reaching for the door-knob: 'You're not leaving us, Jack! tea will be here directly!', to which Jack retorts that he is having tea with the servants, because he is missing female company.11 Elsewhere, there are many other cartoons of the 1890s showing middle-class women riding bicycles and wearing 'rational dress' such as knickerbockers or split skirts. The periodials fed the fear among the Old Men that women were becoming masculinized in their strivings towards equality.

The cigarettes in the cartoon are also highly significant because the cigarette was at once a symbol of the liberated woman and of the gender malaise, a fact borne out by the prominent one maladroitly lit at both ends in Albert George Morrow's poster depicting a liberated young woman for Sidney Grundy's play The New Woman.12 Further proof of the cigarette as symbol is shown – somewhat more bizarrely – in the behaviour of Grand's doting companion, Gladys Singers-Bigger, who meticulously labelled and dated the ends of Grand's discarded cigarettes and saved them for posterity.13

Also worthy of note here, before I deal with Prior's constructions of the New Woman in Chapter Two, is the fact that it is the middle class in which the New Woman is almost invariably found: Ledger, for example, notes that New Woman representations are 'rarely working class'.14 The servants are not seen as stricken be the wildness Linton mentions: the threat to the dominant discourse is working from within.

7 Ledger, p. 12.

8 Calder, p. 164.

9 Ellen Jordan, 'The Christening of the New Woman: May 1894', Victorian Newsletter, 63 (1983), 19–21 (p. 20).

10 Elaine Showalter, Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siècle (London: Bloomsbury, 1991), p. 3.

11 Ledger, p. 98.

12 Jean Chothia, ed., The New Woman and Other Emancipated Plays (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), front cover illustration.

13 Elaine Showalter, 'Smoking Room', TLS, 16 June 1995, p. 12.

14 Ledger, p. 160.

But the New Woman representatives in the literature that purveyed the subversive ideas of the reverse discourse were far from these facile reductions to clearly visible (and movable) female types. The New Woman was an intellectual, pluralistic entity, with perhaps her only two common denominators being a strong desire both for independence and for equal rights with men. But these things did not of course mean the same thing to all New Women. There were more than one hundred New Woman novels written between 1883 and 1900, although it is unclear if this includes the New Woman detective sub-genre described by Willis.15 But the figure obviously excludes drama, and therefore Henrik Ibsen, said to be the virtual inventor of the New Woman.16 A 1913 issue of The Bookman also cites Ibsen's A Doll's House (1879) as an early member of the New Woman genre.17 The above period – 1883 to 1900 – can perhaps be described as the 'high' New Woman era, although the first wave continued beyond the Edwardian period and extended to other countries.

The subject matter of New Woman literature, then, was diverse and often one author's aims conflicted with another's. Some New Woman literature, such as Elizabeth Robin's play Votes for Women! and its novel counterpart The Convert – both from 1907 – are unequivocally proselytizing, demanding political change and the right of women to a positive independent voice. Marriage is a major theme in New Woman literature, and is typically seen as a mental and physical prison: in Votes for Women!, the unmarried Vida Levering says 'the only difference between me and thousands of women with husbands and babies is that I'm free to say what I think. They aren't'.18 Calder finds that Meredith's views strongly concur:

'Meredith was perhaps unique in explicitly exposing the situation of women as the key to a critique of society. He saw marriage as an instrument of restraint. It stifled women, limited men, reinforced class barriers, and inhibited freedom of thought and action. In all his best fiction these destructive operations are at work.'19

15 Angelique Richardson and Chris Willis, Introduction, in Richardson and Willis, pp. 1–38 (p. 1);
Chris Willis, '"Heaven defend me from political or highly-educated women!": Packaging the New Woman for Mass Consumption', in Richardson and Willis, pp. 53–65.

16 Sally Ledger, 'Ibsen, the New Woman and the Actress', in Richardson and Willis, pp. 79–93 (p. 79).

17 Ledger, p. 2.

18 Elizabeth Robins, Votes for Women!, in Chothia, pp. 135–210 (p. 198).

19 Calder, p. 170.

Alternatives to marriage are common in New Woman literature, although they frequently end in misery. In From Man to Man (1911), Schreiner suggests that virtually the only recourse for the 'fallen woman' is prostitution, incidentally a word which for Schreiner includes consent to sexual relations in an unhappy marriage. Hermione Barton in Grant Alllen's The Woman Who Did (1895) is the mother of a child whose father she has refused to marry; she kills herself in the end to save her daughter's reputation. The 'free union' is also discussed in Gissing's The Odd Women (1893), although the Rhoda Nun/Everard Barfoot partnership is aborted before it really begins. If we incorporate Jane and Mary Findlater's Crossriggs (1908) into the New Woman genre – and there is no reason why we should not – Alexandra Hope's choice of spinsterhood as opposed to an unhappy marriage seems a prime example of another such alternative.20 Kate Chopin's The Awakening (1899) explores woman's usually repressed sexual desires; the protagonist Edna Pontellier leaves her husband and has a sexual relationship with the local Lothario, although at the end she commits suicide. At the time, of course, the reason for any failure to find an alternative to marriage was the power of the dominant discourse rejecting any other discourse. All was not misery, though, and I shall turn to some perhaps more positive texts.

Before moving to a few texts in which the idea of the couple is paramount, though – as of course it is in Prior's work – there are two significant New Woman texts that challenge the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century attitudes to gender. In 1893 Ménie Muriel Dowie wrote Women Adventurers, which according to Helen Small is 'a collection of biographical studies of women cross-dressers, travellers, explorers and fighters.'21 But it probably gave no idea of what to expect from Gallia, which exploded on Victorian sensibilities in 1895. In this novel the eponymous New Woman makes a conventional decision but does so in a highly unusual – and also highly subversive – manner. Gallia chooses to marry Mark Gurgon purely because she wants to be a mother. She says, 'I want you to be my husband – or rather, the father of my child.'22

'Gallia' as a forename is unusual. In her Notes on Dowie's novel, Small suggests, although not altogether convincingly, that it is 'apparently a feminine form of "Gallio"', this being Seneca's brother whose 'name became a byword for indifference to public opinion.'23 More interestingly, and perhaps more credibly, it could also suggest the word 'gallinaceous', or the Latin gallina – meaning 'hen-like' or 'hen', an animal usually associated with birth and nurture. Albert Dauzet's Dictionnaire étymologique lists first names beginning with the prefix galli-, and notes that this written form for this species of bird is of Corsican or Italian origin.24

But although Gallia may to some extent have opted for the traditional human mother hen role, she transgresses traditional gender codes in other ways. She is not in love with Gurdon, but delighted that he had a mistress whom he has made pregnant. The mistress is a half-gipsy, someone at the time perceived as racially and socially inferior, albeit sexually useful to unattached young men. This knowledge to Gallia merely serves to attest Gurdon's ability to give her a child: she is mainly interested in his fertility. In this marriage, it is certain who will rule the roost.

And in Gallia, as so often in New Woman literature – and as opposed to the popular press of the day – it is the traditional male who is lampooned. When Gallia reveals not only her awareness of Gurdon's mistress, but also of her 'illness' (an abortion) he is understandably dumbstruck by Gallia's indifference. Instead of the man manipulating the woman to serve his ends, and unlike the exploited gipsy, Gallia is in fact sexually exploiting him. He is indeed, as Gail Cunningham comments, 'hoist [...] with his own petard'.25 But the most withering attack on men in the book comes from Miss Janikon, who, in a statement about men bragging about their sexual conquests, says:


'Men are like children who have come home from the seashore. [...] They have to tell about how they paddled, and just how deep they went in, and all about the queer things they fished out, and about the crabs that caught hold of their toes. [...] And all the time you see how awfully frightened at the crabs they have been.'26

20 Jane and Mary Findlater, Crossriggs (London: Smith, Elder, 1908; repr. London: Virago, 1986).

21 Ménie Muriel Dowie, Gallia (London: Methuen, 1895; repr. London: Dent, 1995), p. xxix.

22 Dowie, p. 191.

23 Dowie, pp. 205–06.

24 Albert Dauzet, Dictionnaire étymologique des noms de famille et prénoms de France (Paris: Larousse, 1951), p. 276.

25 Gail Cunningham '"He-Notes": Reconstructing Masculinity', in Richardson and Willis, pp.94–106 (p. 97).

26 Dowie, pp. 198–99.

However, the following novel shows a movement towards a reconciliation of the sexes after the women have given the men an education in gender. Gilman's Herland adopts a more balanced approach to the issue, although in an unconventional way. Herland was first published serially in 1915 – five years after Prior's last published work – and is a Utopian novel largely set in an imaginary country consisting of only women. Gilman uses the term 'bi-sexual' to describe a society inhabited by both sexes. The Herlander Somel carves through the gender constructs when she tells the explorers Terry, Jeff, and Vandyck, all of whom are from a bi-sexual country, although from the narrative the men and women might be from different planets: 'We can quite see that we do not seem like women – to you. [...] But surely there are chacteristics enough which belong to People, aren't there?'.27 The male narrator notes that the long absence of a history of gender in Herland means that the women have no concept of what is 'manly' or 'womanly'.

But although they do appear to the male strangers as devoid of what their society would consider 'feminine', all three – perhaps a little improbably, although with varying success – soon find partners. The narrator arrives at an enlightening thought: the qualities that he and his society had hitherto considered 'feminine' are in effect 'not feminine at all, but merely reflected masculinity – developed to please us because they had to please us'.28 We seem to be shifting steadily towards an ideology of androgyny – if in fact that has any meaning in this context – although in her Introduction, Ann J. Lane is quick to emphasize Gilman's conventional ideas concerning 'the nuclear family or monogamous marriage'.29

But it is in earlier literature emphasizing the importance of the couple that the New Man is found, so I now turn to this phenomenon. Peter Schwenger quotes Annette Lolodny: 'If we insist on discovering something we can clearly label as a "feminine mode," then we are honor-bound, also, to delineate its counterpart, the "masculine mode."30 Following this logic, it seems clear that a New Woman should automatically suggest a New Man, the existence of whom was first mentioned at the fin de siècle. As well as being the New Woman's partner, the New Man in a sense follows on from the Foulcauldian idea of a reverse discourse, although perhaps it would be more accurate here to call it a reverse discourse support, or an extension of the New Woman reverse discourse. In jest, Max Beerbohm refers to 'the amalgamation of the sexes' as 'one of the chief planks of the decadent platform'.31

However, the association of the New Man with the decadent movement does not concern me here, as Prior's fiction involves more a mixture of male and female within both sexes in a purely hererosexual context. At the fin de siècle there was certainly an interest in androgny that extended far beyond the decadent movement. The New Man, apart from the homosexual/decadent, or the satirized variety, is in fiction not usually allowed a separate existence outside that of the New Woman – he is defined by her and exists for her, and in the light of fictional representaton would surely not be fully coherent in his own right.

27 Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland (Forerunner, 1915; repr. London: The Women's Press, 1979), p.89.

28 Herland, p. 59.

29 The Charlotte Perkins Gilman Reader: The Yellow Wallpaper & Other Fiction, ed. by Ann J. Lane (London: The Woman's Press, 1981), pp. [ix]–xlii (p. xxviii).

30 Peter Schwenger, 'The Masculine Mode', in Speaking of Gender, ed. by Elaine Showalter (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 101–12 (p.101).

31 Ledger, p. 96.

Perhaps inevitably, the earliest references to the New Man were in jokes in the press: Marks (whose Bicycles, Bangs, and Bloomers is dedicated to 'To the [present?] New Man') reveals that Punch showed the New Man 'as an effeminate creation of his club-going [but not wielding] wife'.32 And the following verse, printed in the coincidentally appropriately named Pick-Me-Up in 1896, depicts gender inversion in its full satirical glory with rampant young amazons chasing a sexually timid man:

'School-girls with satchels of wild oats
Have come to make mankind their prey;
And some have dofft their petticoats
As being rather in the way.
To prove that they are frank and free,
Lord knows what else they would not doff;
But voila! [sic] When they turn to see –
The Newest man is making off!'33

In general, though, New Woman fiction's New Men are not of the effeminate or timid kind. They very much tend to resemble our present-day understanding of the term, believing in equality with women in a hererosexual relationship. In Mary Cholmondeley's Red Pottage (1899), though, the new New Man never has the opportunity to put his ideas into practice. Hugh Scarlett (the scarlet New Man?) has had an affair with Lady Newhaven. After drawing the shorter straw with Lord Newhaven, Scarlett must now do the honourable thing and kill himself, although he finally turns coward and Lord Newhaven kills himself instead. Scarlett continues to deceive the New Woman figure, Rachel West, with whom he is in love and who is largely cognizant of the details of the 'gentleman's agreement' although not of the result. But towards the end of the book, after all evidence of the agreement has been destroyed, Scarlett confesses his dishonourable action. For Rachel though, it is too late, and she rejects him. It is left to her friend the bishop to rebuke her:

'[A]t last, in a moment, when you showed your full trust and confidence in him, he shook off for an instant the clogs of the nature which he brought into the world, and rose to what he had never been before – your equal.'34

Scarlett may now be on his way to a pointless death, but at least he has become, amidst a mass of villains in New Woman literature's back pages, one of the most shining examples of a New Man in the whole genre. The bishop makes a few interesting points here to aid the reader's identification of him: 'the clogs of the nature which he brought into the world' in part refers to original sin, but the bishop is in addition referring to the extreme effort Scarlett has made to build himself into a New Man. Unlike becoming a New Woman, which usually seems far more 'natural' in the genre, it appears that becoming a New Man is a part of social evolution. And the bishop also stresses equality here, which is a vital component in the relationship between the New Woman and the New Man.

Turning to Olive Schreiner's view of the New Man, at the end of The Story of an African Farm (1883) Gregory Rose becomes a transvestite nurse who lovingly looks after the New Woman Lyndall. Ledger describes him as 'a species of "New Man"', although she admits that '[Schreiner's] sympathies appear [...] to lie more readily with the type of "new manhood" embodied by the intellectual dreamer, Waldo Farber'.35 In the unfinished Man to Man (finally published posthumously in 1927), Drummond has also been identified by some critics as another specimen of the New Man breed. Buck, for instance, says that 'this story ends with Rebekah's deepening friendship with Mr Drummond, a friendship which signifies the gender equality Schreiner's writing so constantly and so hopelessly drives toward.'36

But there is too little information for the reader to judge: Drummond only appears towards the end to the book, and the events are too inconclusive for the reader to decide if the relationship concerns gender equality or just intellectual and temperamental equality. But Schreiner is probably the first person to mention the New Man in a serious context, and Schreiner's New Man, as I shall demonstrate in Chapter Three, strongly appears to resemble Prior's.

At the end of Woman and Labour (1911), Schreiner spends almost thirty pages discussing her New Man. She introduces the idea of an ideal partner – someone, Brandon argues, that she did not find in Havelock Ellis, Karl Pearson, or her husband Cron Cronwright, although ironically she may to some extent have found him in the homosexual Edward Carpenter.37

32 Patricia Marks, Bicycles, Bangs, and Bloomers: The New Woman in the Popular Press (Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1990), p. 133.

33 Marks, pp. 33–40.

34 Mary Cholmondeley, Red Pottage (London: Arnold, 1899; repr. London: Virago, 1985), p. 356.

35 Ledger, p. 83.

36 Buck, p. 563.

37 Ruth Brandon, The New Women and the Old Men: Love, Sex and the Woman Question (London: Secker & Warburg, 1990), p.90;

Ruth First and Anne Scott, Olive Schreiner: A Biography (London: Deutsch, 1990; repr. The Women's Press, 1989), p.217.

In a long, rambling sentence that builds to a dramatic italicized crescendo, the second half of which I quote below, Schreiner says her ideal man is:

'[N]ew in the sense in which [the New Woman] is new, in that he is an adaptation to material and social conditions which have no exact counterpart in the past; more diverse from his immediate progenitors, than even the woman is from hers, side by side with her to-day in every society and in every class in which she is found, stands – the New Man!'38

The sentence is highly significant. From this powerful trumpeting of the new breed, Schreiner goes on to discuss the nature of this wonderful creature. But it is quite clear from the above that the New Man, like the New Woman, fits tidily into Schreiner's evolutionary thinking, which was influenced by Spencer and Emerson. It is also clear from the expression 'side by side' – a repetition of the first words of the sentence as well as an integral part of the reader's understanding of the end of it – that Schreiner is giving emphasis to the equal nature of this perfect, and ipso facto Utopian, evolutionary partnership. She calls the woman's movement

'[A] part of a great movement of the sexes towards each other, a movement towards common occupations, common interests, common ideals, and towards an emotional sympathy between the sexes more deeply founded and more indestructible than any the world has yet seen.'39

Schreiner's language is co-operative rather than confrontational. In her widened sphere, the New Woman will work on an equal basis with the New Man. Throughout Woman and Labour, her argument is that men and women have over the centuries lost a kind of Edenic state. They have become separated from each other, and she looks forward to a future – typically seen in evolutionary terms as a caterpillar changing into a chrysallis before the imago – when man will flap his wings with woman in the sunshine of togetherness.40 This idealistic state appears to be not unlike that represented by the principal couple in Forest Folk.
Schreiner would easily fit into Gilbert and Gubar's 'gradualist' camp. Here the authors describe the approach of later – albeit considerably diverse – theorists such as Beauvoir, Freidan, and Greer, who sought changes within the existing social structure itself. They 'implicitly defined a redeemed future populated by New Women, New Men, mother-men, and androgynes'.41 At the fin de siècle, Calder rather optimistically sees evidence outside the conservative press arena of a widespread acceptance of the need for women's increasing independence.42

But certain central issues, such as the extension of the franchise, or woman's status in the workplace at home, needed to be seriously addressed. Nevertheless, the publicity the women's movement had gained meant that everyone was aware of its presence, and this is evident in Prior's Forest Folk, where he creates his own idiosyncratic version of the New Woman and the New Man described in the following chapters.

38 Olive Schreiner, Woman and Labour (London: Unwin, 1911), pp. 253–54.

39 Woman and Labour, p. 259.

40 Woman and Labour, p. 281.

41 Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, No Man's Land: The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century, 3 vols (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988–94), III: Letters to the Front, 369.

42 Calder, p. 164–66.


The links below are to the posts I've made on James Prior:

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
James Prior's Forest Folk (dissertation): Introduction
James Prior's Forest Folk (dissertation): Chapter One
James Prior's Forest Folk (dissertation): Chapter Two
James Prior's Forest Folk (dissertation): Chapter Three
James Prior's Forest Folk (dissertation): Conclusion
The Grave of James Prior (1851–1922) in Bingham
James Prior's Parents' Grave, Nottingham
James Prior: Three Shots from a Popgun (1880)

James Prior's Forest Folk: A Novel Construction of the New Woman and the New Man: Chapter Two

CHAPTER TWO
Prior's New Woman

'It is, perhaps, in the female characters that the author is most successful; so much so that we have found ourselves wondering at times if the name on the title-page is not a woman's disguise. Man or woman, the author is to be congratulated on a really clever novel.'1

These words appear in the first review of Forest Folk, published in a 1901 issue of The Athenaeum. They are among the early encouraging criticisms of Prior's work, but they are also revealing in that they highlight the crucial issue of gender: in Prior's books, contrary to the conventional male discourse, women feature prominently and often in a far more favourable light than men. Six years after the review of Forest Folk a review of A Walking Gentleman appeared in the same journal, with this significant sentence about the male progagonist:

'All we see of [Lord Beiley] makes him out a weak, amiable, and rather colourless young man. His lady, on the other hand, is singularly strong-willed and generous, and so the couple reverse the traditional characteristics of the sexes.'2

So the stress was still on gender. J. M. Barrie later declared that if he had known Prior was living in Nottingham when he himself briefly worked there as a leader writer, 'I would have rung every bell to get at him. He is a fine writer whose work I cherish.'3 But Barrie's brief period in Nottingham was from 1883 to 1884: at that time Prior had yet to publish a novel, and hardly anyone would have been aware of his plays.

D. H. Lawrence was certainly aware of Prior's work, and shortly before he left Croydon to return to Nottinghamshire in 1912, he wrote two letters to Edward Garnett, the first (dated 13 December 1911) saying: 'What a curious man James Prior is! I did not know him, and he was so near home. I was very much interested. But what Curious, highly flavoured stuff!'4. His second letter, on 3 January 1912, states that 'the whole household [...] has devoured James Prior', and then adds: Why is he a failure? Wm. Heinemann said he was.' He goes on to quote Heinemann – Lawrence's first publisher, and also Prior's publisher of Forest Folk and the bizarre Hyssop – on Prior's work: 'Very good, I thought – but went quite dead, quite dead.'5 But Prior didn't appear to have devoured Lawrence: his comment on him is a blunt 'We deal in different realities.'6

J. M. Barrie, on the other hand, dealt in a similar reality to Lawrence, who in 1910 informed Jessie Chambers that he was in 'exactly the same [sexually indeterminate] predicament' as Barrie's Tommy Sandys.7 Tommy and Grizel shows Grizel looking after Tommy – who never grows up emotionally – as she might a young girl, and she too has gender concerns: 'Perhaps [...] I should have been a man.'8 Prior's characters cannot be described as sexually indeterminate, but in his novels there is a clear preoccupation with gender reversal which no doubt in part explains Barrie's enthusiasm for them. And these are the essential features of Prior's main characters – strong women and weak men. We are in New Woman territory, yet there is no specific mention of a New Woman in the whole of Prior's work.



1 Anonymous, Athenaeum, 'Forest Folk, By James Prior', 3840 (1901), 688.

2 Anonymous, Athenaeum, 'A Walking Gentleman, By James Prior', 4168 (1907), 297.

3 Fisher, p. 8.

4 The Letters of D. H. Lawrence: September 1901–May 1913, ed. by James T. Boulton (London: Cambridge University Press, 1979), I, 334.

5Boulton, I, 344.

6 Ivory Buchan, 'James Prior: An Appreciation', Nottinghamshire Countryside, July 1941, pp. 8–9.

7 Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, 'The Beast in the Closet: James and the Writing of Homosexual Panic', in Speaking of Gender, pp. 243–68 (p. 243).

8 J. M. Barrie, Tommy and Grizel (London: Cassell, 1900), p. 290.


A clear conventional New Woman character nevertheless appears in Ripple and Flood, only to be unsympathetically portrayed. Mrs Orpet rides a bicycle, wears knickerbockers and talks enthusiastically about tennis, cricket and bimetallism. She has an aggressive manner, and the first person narrator, Edward, decribes her as 'something between a man and a woman'.8 One is reminded here of Prince Rimânez's alarming remark in Marie Corelli's anti-New Woman novel The Sorrows of Satan (1895): 'And as for the tomboy tennis-players and giantesses of the era, I do not consider them women at all – they are merely the unnatural and strutting embryos of a new sex which will be neither male nor female'.9 This is Punch with a kick.

It was not until 13 years later – in 1910 – that Prior (whose opinions Edward seems in part to be voicing) developed a more tolerant attitude towards extremes of the type. Fortuna Chance in Prior's eponymous and last published novel is clearly modelled on the conventional idea of the fin-de-siècle New Woman, although the book is set during the Jacobite rising of the first half of the eighteenth century. The narrator – whose views are again scarcely distinguishable from what appear to be Prior's own, says 'though tied at birth to narrow dogmas and formulas and by no means learned [Fortuna] might yet claim to be of the first of that new thing in the modern world, an emancipated woman.'10 But the above representations – favourable or otherwise – have a clear date, whereas Prior's Nell is far from age-specific. In fact his New Woman in Forest Folk is a variety of the Old Woman who has always existed, a person similar to Schreiner's New Woman, who 'is essentially [...] the old non-parasitic woman of the remote past, preparing to draw on her twentieth-century garb'.11 But Prior's New Woman is working class and frequently shares characteristics with gipsies and witches: a very different person. I shall demonstrate that Prior's Nell in Forest Folk is in the New Woman mould, although dehistoricized.


8 Ripple and Flood, p. 268.

9 Marie Corelli, The Sorrows of Satan (London: Methuen, 1895; repr. Oxford: Oxford Univeristy Press, 1998), p. 66.

10 Fortuna Chance, p. 21.

11 Woman and Labour, pp. 252–53.

Forest Folk is set at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It depicts two farming communities near Blidworth village – the Rideouts, who farm a small area of land, and Arthur Skrene, who has moved nearby with his sister Lois after inheriting some expensive farming stock from his uncle, a major tenant farmer in the village. From the initial encounter between Nell Rideout and Arthur the gender reversal is evident. Arthur meets a tall, surly ploughboy who threatens to smash Arthur's gate and only later, when a gust of wind blows off the ploughboy's hat as Arthur is leaving, does he see that he has been addressing a young woman. Arthur himself, conversely, is 'rather slightly made' and afterwards described by Nell as 'a little un'.12 The gender reversal pattern is repeated throughout the book, and the narrator says of Nell:


'Her amusements were those of the male farmer, she coursed hares with her greyhound bitch, she shot rabbits for the pot, as often as she might she rode to hounds on her old hunter Hasty' (p. 30).

Other actions of Nell's transgress the conventional 'feminine' behavioural patterns. In a fit of pique she throws a dead hare at Arthur. Later, when she is again disguised as a man, there is a violent dispute between them over property transgression – part of a long-standing argument involving the use of some of Arthur's gates as a thoroughfare to a main road, This could, of course, be seen as an example of the dominant discourse against the reverse discourse. The middle-class Arthur stands for authority, self-restraint and sobriety, and in opposition to this dominant discourse is the reverse discourse as seen in the working-class woman Nell. He is bent on preserving the status quo, having 'a fine sense of legality and property' (p. 51). He is a volunteer sergeant in the yeomanry, a cavalry force set up in the early eighteenth century for home defence, But in what sense is his sense 'fine'? He later looks at his smashed gate and trampled crops 'with the reckoning mien of a man taking an inventory'. (p. 62). When the narrator uses the word 'fine', it is not at all clear that it is meant in a positive sense. 'Fastidious' would perhaps be a good synonym, a suggestion borne out by the narrator's ensuing comment: 'Altogether it was a very pretty quarrel, which it is not my intention to spoil by settling' (p. 57). The narrator appears not to take sides in the dispute, although it will become clear through this chapter and the next that the narrator is in far greater sympathy with Nell than with any other character in the novel. Furthermore, it would be fair to add that the female working-class discourse, backed up by the narrative discourse, is in fact the principal one in the book and often subverts the middle-class discourse. Even as Arthur attempts the inventory of damage, his far from hostile thoughts are with Nell the perpetrator. As Ivory Buchan, in what is perhaps the only serious and unbiased critical assessment of Prior's work, notes: 'as in all [of Prior's] novels it is the lower classes who steal the thunder', and mentions Hardy as an 'obvious comparison'.13


12 Forest Folk, pp. 8, 18. Further references to page numbers in this book are given after quotations in the body of the dissertation.

13 Buchan, p. 9.


There are at least four clearly detectable discourses in Forest Folk, although there is substantial interweaving, overlapping, changing of allegiances, and collisions. Tant, for instance, is Nell's brother and a half-hearted Luddite. To some extent he represents the male working-class discourse standing in opposition to Arthur and often to Nell, but Lois is indebted to him for probably saving her life and 'arrests' him in order to hide him from the police. Arthur not only neglects to do his duty as a sergeant in the yeomanry and surrender Tant to the police but even ignores the fact that Lois is harbouring Tant in one of Arthur's rooms at High Farm.

The narrative discourse supporting and supported by Nell frequently develops overtones from the temperance movement. The male working-class discourse often includes a certain mindlessness caused by drink and frequently says thing contrary to all conventional conceptions of reason. In his defence, Tant tells his sister Nell 'We're a band o' true honest-hearted mates. 'sociated together for our common weal', and Nell swiftly paries: 'At least yo get drunk together' (p. 27). But wastrel and drunkard though he is, Tant supports Nell in her fight over property access. And when sober he appears to align himself more with the female working-class discourse, once even helping with the household chores, although he sees his eventual redemption in being a soldier'hacking Frenchmen i'stead o' tunnips' –sentiments of which Arthur would surely approve (p. 70). However, his dominant sister Tish even taunts him by suggesting that he would be better in a dress, an idea of which Tant does not altogether seem to disapprove. These are the first tentative indications of the New Man whom I discuss in Chapter Three.

But the most important discourse to look at in Forest Folk is of course female and working-class, which the narrator presents as a formidable force that men recognize but often misunderstand and are afraid of. It pervades all other discourses, gaining converts and enemies in equal measure. To the narrator this discourse exists for example in gipsy culture. Fisher informs us that until about the age of 15 the only novel Prior had read was George Borrow's The Bible in Spain because it was the only one his austere father permitted –purely because it contained the word 'Bible'.14 With numerous readings of this book informing Prior's early literary education, it is hardly surprising that Borrow's romantic love of gipsies affected him so much. Out of six published novels two represent gipsies in a highly favourable light. Ivy Sivil in Ripple and Flood and Afla Lee in Fortuna Chance strongly resemble New Women in their independence and strength of character. Significantly, both of these women exhibit strong 'masculine' traits. Edward, for example, says:

'Ivy could swim – a rare accomplishment with us; she could run and climb and jump, and play at every boy's game; she often took command of the ferry-boat during her father's absences.'15

Stanley J. Kunitz and Howard Haycraft suggest that Ivy is similar to Isopel Berners in Borrow's The Romany Rye, although Ivory Buchan sees in her a 'family resemblance' to George Eliot's Maggie Tulliver.16 Alfa also exhibits 'masculine' traits: she proposes to Roland, and feigning sickness, she takes the initiative by lying on top of him under a blanket to conceal him from his pursuers. In his Introduction to Trigg's Gypsy Demons and Divinities, E. E. Evans-Pritchard says that gipsies have a 'proud, independent character', and Trigg claims that their origin goes back too far to remember.17 Conventional New Woman literature also sees the gipsy as important, as in James's The Bostonians, where the nascent New Woman figure Verena Tarrant as a child 'seemed to belong to some queer gipsy-land or transcendental Bohemia', and:

'[W]hen in the country, once or twice [...] she had, with a chance companion, strayed far from home, spent hours in the woods and fields, looking for raspberries and playing she was a gipsy'.18


14 Fisher, p. 3.

15 Ripple and Flood, p. 10.

16 Stanley J. Kunitz and Howard Haycraft, eds, Twentieth Century Authors: A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Literature (New York: Wilson, 1942), p. 1131;

17 E. B. Trigg, Gypsy Demons and Divinities: The Magical and Supernatural Practices of the Gypsies (London: Sheldon Press, 1975), pp. xi, 6–7.

18 Henry James, The Bostonians (London: Macmillan, 1886; repr. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 74, 313.



And George Egerton's New Woman – usually symbolically nameless – embraces the power of both the gipsy and the witch. The witch too has existed since before recorded histoy: according to Maria Leach, the belief in witches has existed 'from earliest times to present day'.19 In 'A Cross Line' the husband calls his wife 'Gipsy', while to the fisherman she is a 'witch woman'. The protagonist of 'The Regeneration of Two' begins a kind of transformation on reaching Bygdo: 'The witchery of the surroundings begins to affect her. The resinous smell of the pines does her head good.'20 In her Introduction to the Virago Keynotes and Discords double volume, Vicinus states:

'Throughout her work the highest compliment Egerton could give a woman was to declare her a witch, in the sense of bewitching –someone who knew her sexual attractiveness and was willing to use it.'21

In 'A Cross Line', in an interesting allusion to the title of the book, Egerton's narrator says:

'They have all overlooked the eternal wildness, the untamed primitive savage temperament that lurks in the mildest, best woman. Deep in through ages of convention this primeval trait burns, an untamable quantity that may be concealed but is never eradicated by culture – the keynote of woman's witchcraft and woman's strength.'22

The culture the narrator refers to is obviously male, imperialistic, prescriptive, and above all anti-libertarian. And she says that such writers as Strindberg and Nietzsche had seen through the various layers of falsehood enshrouding the conventional woman to discover the true woman within –and this is of course and area of consciousness that Foucault later investigated.23 The quote is also significant in that Egerton's New Woman in many ways closely resembles Prior's Nell, albeit without the philosophical content. The same qualities that Egerton praised in her New Woman are those in Nell which captivate Arthur and Lois.


19 Maria Leach, ed., Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend, 2 vols (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1949–50), II, p. 1179.

20 George Edgerton, Keynotes and Discords (London: Mathews & Lane, 1893 (Keynotes), and Lane, 1894 (Discords); repr. London: Virago, 1983), Keynotes, pp. 14, 30; Discords, pp. 172–73. Further footnotes to the Virago edition are referred to as 'Egerton' with the addition (where applicable) of either 'Keynotes or Discords because of their separate pagination within the volume.

21 Egerton, p. x.

22 Egerton, Keynotes, p. 22.

23 Egerton, Keynotes, p. 23.


The not dissimilar worlds of witches and gipsies and their affinity with the natural world, with the exotic, with independence of action and spirit, with a certain enigmatic power, are important both to some New Woman writers and to Prior. This power is first seen in Forest Folk when Arthur is struck by the ploughboy's sudden transformation into a remarkable young woman with hair coloured with 'lustrous waves of that eloquent hue which is nearest to red but not red' (p. 7). She has undergone a 'miraculous alteration', and uses Arthur's entrancement to mock him: 'Yo mean to know me when yo see me again' (p. 10). The female working-class discourse is demoralizing the middle-class discourse, as it does later when Nell replies to Arthur, after his observation that she would 'make a gallant soldier's wife', 'I've no opinion o'sojers [...] nayther play-sojers nor workaday-sojers (pp. 129-30). Her caustic distinction of course belies her statement before the ellipsis.

The power Nell possesses affects and troubles other people, although for the middle-class Skrenes it exists as a benign, if somewhat disturbing, force. Both Lois and Arthur are amused by the sight of Nell returning from milking: 'the old blue smock-frock, the thick boots, the clumsy gaiters, the wooden piggin ledged on her hip'.24 They both admire the woman, though, and Arthur, in an expression that combines images of the working class, androgyny, and an unsettling sexuality, sees a 'conglomerate milkmaid, ploughboy and nymph' (p. 52). Lois later sees 'a woman as tall as a man, and with a man's frankness of outlook, yet a woman all over' (p. 131). Not for the first time, the narrator appends a qualifying phrase to a statement that might show Nell in too 'masculine' a light, as if for some reason he is afraid of gender contamination. Lawrence uses a very similar technique when he describes his New Woman figure Winifred Inger in The Rainbow: 'She was proud and free as a man, yet exquisite as a woman.'25 Masculine and gender constructs are joined in one person. Lois, of course, is also a representative of the middle-class discourse, but the insidious female working-class discourse is having a powerful effect on her. During her recovery from the attack on the farm she sees Nell as a kind of idol with curative powers:

'Arthur, if I were a Haroun-al-Rashid autocrat, I'd sit in a lighted saloon [...] and have her dash in and out on a wild Arab. I think the sight would shame my head into steadiness and my legs and back into strength (pp. 186-87).

Lois is of course associating Nell with the Arabian Nights, and imagining that she has the power of mental and physical healing. Significantly, Nell later saves Arthur's life by symbolically using her garter on his wounded leg as a tourniquet. Furthermore, Lois says of her first face to face encounter with Nell:

'When she came into the house on that night, wet, disorderly and great, a part and parcel of the elements, she made me dwindle into a rag-doll with ink-dots for eyes and saw-dust for soul' (p. 187).

Nell is part of the natural, disorderly order of Egerton's New Women, Lois the socially constructed, manufactured middle- class world. Nell is complete, Lois suffers from a lack. And she is only too willingly becoming a victim of subversion by Prior's New Woman.

But if Nell has the power to cure, she is also perceived by the male working-class discourse as having the power to kill She has red hair, a feature associated in folklore with evil and misfortune.26 Her power embraces a timeless order and the male working-class is not entranced: it is terrified of her. Spettigrew first mentions a history of witchcraft in the Rideout family to Arthur, who calls him a fool (p. 87). Spettigrew says of Nell, 'I niver liked them fraunfreckles about 'er eyes; nor yit the colour of 'er 'air; there's a touch o' hell fire about it (p. 283). Much earlier, the narrator had remarked: 'In those days a rural community was as little complete without a witch as without a parson or a doctor' (p. 31). Superstition mixed with drink is a dangerous concoction. The drunken Spettigrew feels a 'superstitious hate' which with the 'up-push of opportunity' manifests itself in violence (p. 309). According to the temperance ideology of the narrator, pubs foster the environment for the hate which the madness of intoxication fuels. Jesses Limm had attributed his daughter's death to diphtheria, 'until he was helped to see a woman's devilry in it' (p.310). The narrator has in several previous passages shown how well acquainted he is with the taxonomy of drunkenness. Woman, in the shape of a witch called Nell, gradually –'nearer eleven than ten' – becomes the scapegoat for all the unsolved ills in Blidworth (p. 310). 'Blid'orth laws', 'a local name for the rough justice of Judge Lynch', is not timeless and seems to belong to a medieval past (p. 312).



24 One wonders of this vision is in any way inspired by Joan Southcott, who also used to be a milkmaid and was seen by some as a witch.

25 D. H. Lawrence, The Rainbow (London: Methuen, 1915; repr. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1949), p. 337.

26 Iona Opie and Moira Tatem, eds, A Dictionary of Superstitions (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989; repr. 1992), pp. 325–26.



We have already seen how Nell is associated with the age-old witch or gipsy, and the timeless dialect she speaks is firmly rooted in the land in which it is spoken. But if Prior is really trying to dehistoricize her, why does he have her so spellbound by the activities in the Methodist chapel she regularly attends, which surely anchors her to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries?

This is where the narrator, barely distinguishable from Prior the Methodist, intervenes once more in a chapter entitled 'Hallelujah!', and allows his religious views to intrude on the narrative. There are two principal religious services in Forest Folk, the first of which is in a Methodist chapel and the other in the parish church.27 The former has a staunchly working-class following with participation being of vital importance. Here, the congregation is on familiar terms with the preachers and make well-received interruptions. The atmosphere is convivial, whereas in the Anglican church the atmosphere is starchy and formal, and the mumbling preacher impersonally labelled 'the surpliced man' (p. 306). Prior makes it quite plain that the Methodist Church belongs to the natural order which he juxtaposes to it. As Brother Lightfoot roars to God, 'a ray of sunshine came through the chink between door and jamb; a row of children had settled on the bottom step and were chattering like sparrows' (p. 99). Evidently, the narrator is underlining how much the Methodist chapel transports the churchgoers to a more natural world that is part of a timeless unity.

In Ripple and Flood, it is significant that the androgynous gipsy Ivy –also one of Prior's New Woman figures – becomes a Salvation Army preacher. She is incidentally one of the very few fictional women preachers of the period, and someone whom the narrator Edward will later marry. Prior is again associating his New Women with Low Church sects. Although she never gives a formal religious speech herself, Nell does very informally preach her beliefs about class tolerance. The Methodist chapel is her natural home, and in Chapter Three I shall explain what role Nell subsequently performs in the scoffing Arthur's education towards becoming her partner, the New Man. Juxtaposed to the Methodist service is a far more restrained Anglican service, although this time it is not 'the surpliced man' who allows in the natural order, but the congregation singing and the church roof figuratively disappearing to allow Lois and Tant a view of the sky. Tant too, as I shall also make clear in the next chapter, has made great advances towards New Man status, although it would be an exaggeration to call Lois a fully fledged New Woman.

But it is Nell who is at the heart of the book and much of the action, and Prior's novel is a paean to the female working-class discourse as represented by her. The gender anarchy seen in so many middle-class representations is present in the book, as is the strong spirit of independence and will to work. But one difference is that most of the significant scenes take place outdoors as opposed to the often claustrophobic middle-class home of the fin-de-siecle New Woman figure. But a notable exception, which again highlights previously mentioned similarities between Prior's New Woman and the more conventional New Woman, is Egerton's 'The Regeneration of Two', which had important outdoor settings. Vicinus sees the oudoors as Egerton's 'freeing agent, providing the space and climate for personal growth'.28 But unlike the conventional New Woman novel Nell's work is manual, and there is a positive lack of any direct comment in Forest Folk on woman's position in society. But Nell has an independence of spirit that makes her more than equal to any man, and her words will become more effective than the snobbish Arthur can imagine. Prior has reclaimed the New Woman from the middle class, saturating her in the exotic mystery of the gipsy, or in Nell's case the witch.

Ledger says that 'nineteenth-century novels quintessentially close with a marriage', but that most New Woman novels reject romance.29 With the exception of his first novel Renie –which ends with a vicar's wife mentally destroying her husband after their illegitimately born daughter has effectively committed suicide – all of Prior's novels either end with a recent wedding or with the assumption of an imminent wedding. It would be accurate to describe Pior as a writer of very low-key romantic novels. As Leclaire, in a book published in the same year as his bibliography of the regional novel, says of Prior's books: 'Le theme ordinaire de l'amour n'est pas absent, mais il n'encombre pas le roman.'30 Certainly, romantic love itself that is the central issue, but the dynamics of the man-woman relationship. Vicinus notes Egerton's prediction of an evolution in male-female relationships. This foreshadowed the writings of, for example, Schreider and Gilman: 'unlike other women of her times, she could imagine the creation of a more equal relationship between the New Woman at her strongest and freest and an evolving "New Man"'.


27 R. W. Ambler points out that Primitive Methodism was essentially a working-class phenomenon characterized by 'fervent prayer meetings held under shared leadership [...] and large-scale participation in worship'. This would suggest the kind of service depicted in Forest Folk, and the first church of this kind to be opened in Nottinghamshire – incidentally in Prior's home town of Bingham – was in 1818, when the congregation, far too large for the building, moved to the market place where 'hundreds joined in the grand chorus of hallelujah!'. See R. W. Ambler, Ranters, Revivalists and Rural Society South Lincolnshire 1817–1875 (Hull: Hull University Press, 1989), pp. 1, 30–33.

28 Egerton, p. xi.

29 Ledger, pp. 26, 54.

30 Leclaire, Lucien, Le Roman régionaliste dans les Iles britanniques, 1800-1950 (Paris: Société d'édition les Belles lettres, 1954).


The links below are to the posts I've made on James Prior:

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James Prior's Forest Folk (dissertation): Introduction
James Prior's Forest Folk (dissertation): Chapter One
James Prior's Forest Folk (dissertation): Chapter Two
James Prior's Forest Folk (dissertation): Chapter Three
James Prior's Forest Folk (dissertation): Conclusion
The Grave of James Prior (1851–1922) in Bingham
James Prior's Parents' Grave, Nottingham
James Prior: Three Shots from a Popgun (1880)