The so-called New Woman -- that determined and free-wheeling figure in rational dress, demanding education, suffrage, and a career-was a frequent target for humorists in the popular press of the late nineteenth century. She invariably stood in contrast to the womanly woman, a traditional figure bound to domestic concerns and a stereotype away from which many women were inexorably moving.Patricia Marks's book, based on a survey of satires and caricatures drawn from British and American periodicals of the 1880s and 1890s, places the popular view of the New Woman in the context of the age and explores the ways in which humor both reflected and shaped readers' perceptions of women's changing roles.Not all commentators of the period attacked the New Woman; even conservative satirists were more concerned with poverty, prostitution, and inadequate education than with defending so-called femininity. Yet, as the influx of women into the ecomic mainstream changed social patterns, the popular press responded with humor ranging from the witty to the vituperative.Many of Marks's sources have never been reprinted and exist only in unindexed periodicals. Her book thus provides a valuable resource for those studying the rise of feminism and the influence of popular culture, as well as literary historians and critics seeking to place more formal genres within a cultural framework. Historians, sociologists, and others with an interest in Victorianism will find in it much to savor.
Patricia Marks, professor of English at Valdosta State College, is author of American Literary and Drama Reviews and co-author of The Smiling Muse: Victoriana in the Comic Press.