THE NEW WOMEN AND THE OLD MEN: Love, Sex, and the Woman Question by Ruth Brandon

THE NEW WOMEN AND THE OLD MEN: Love, Sex, and the Woman Question

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Informed by a feminist spirit, this lively group portrait of turn-of-the-century British progressives contrasts the sacrifices made by ""New Women"" with the exploits of guilt-free ""New Men."" Cultural historian (The Spiritualists, 1983, etc.) and mystery writer (Left, Right and Centre, 1986) Brandon begins with the 1884 English ""honeymoon"" of two unmarried couples--Eleanor Marx (Karl Marx's political activist daughter) and her lover, Dr. Edward Aveling; and Olive Schreiner, the celebrated South African novelist, and pioneer sexologist Henry Havelock Ellis. Breaking out of ""the old restrictions,"" these New Women were taking a stand on the ""Women Question,"" which, beyond suffrage, involved ""a whole range of inequities and moral and economic double standards."" A thoughtful and witty commentator, Brandon pulls us into the relationships of these four and of an interconnected group of socialists whose lives brought to a boil the political and sexual ferment of their age. Too soon, of course, their various honeymoons were over--at a greater cost to the women than to the men. Rebecca West, for instance, hid with an illegitimate son in a village away from London's literary scene while the child's other parent, H.G. Wells, who propounded ""free and guiltless sexual choice"" in his books, continued to enjoy the comforts of his conventional marriage. In Brandon's view, only two of these New Women, Olive Schreiner (""married"" to her books) and Margaret Sanger, the birth-control pioneer who was involved with both Ellis and Wells, ""succeeded in living their lives as freely as if they had been men."" This frank social history glares into the treacherous chasm between modern theory and late-Victorian practice when it came to the Woman Question--a question that a century later finds no easy answer.

Pub Date: July 2nd, 1990
Publisher: Norton