Victorian consternation about the physiological—especially reproductive—repercussions of women readers’ affective involvement with fiction is well documented. This essay contends, however, that at the fin de siècle a new cultural anxiety developed around the possibility of the woman who under-identifies, that is, refuses or is simply incapable of a stereotypically feminine standard of personal identification with literature. As the number of women entering vocational training as well as higher education increased exponentially in the late nineteenth century, the threat of women’s influx into the workplace expressed itself in a discourse of concern for the vitiation of women’s “natural” responsiveness to reading as a symptom of emotional as well as physical barrenness. George Gissing’s New Grub Street (1891) and The Odd Women (1893), in addition to the New Women novels of Charlotte Riddell and George Paston, engage with and complicate the idea of professional women’s literary detachment as a kind of morbid pathology, a trope that nevertheless continues to influence the reception of these works.
Knox, M. (2014). “The Valley of the Shadow of Books”: George Gissing, New Women, and Morbid Literary Detachment. Nineteenth-Century Literature, 69(1), 92-122. doi:10.1525/ncl.2014.69.1.92