«Public women, private stage?» : the debate on «separate spheres» in Victorian women’s «actress novels»

Corinne François Deneve


In the late nineteenth century, in England, many women writers tried their hands at a fashionable genre, the «actress novel». These women forced the door to a public space, often considered as masculine, that of literature. They also chose to devote a whole book to a «public woman» who obviously challenged the Victorian ideal of the «cult of domesticity» and of the «angel of the house». By publishing «actress novels», which were often hugely popular, women writers thus added their voices to the debate on boundaries and «separate spheres». The actress novel, a gendered variation of the Künstlerroman, thus raises the question of the problematic reconciliation between public fame and private happiness: how can a public woman still be a woman in private? One can finally wonder whether these women’s actress novels are «feminist». What is made public in these novels is rather the reassertion of the place of women within the private sphere.


Actress novel; Fin de siècle; Women writers; Angel of the house; Separate spheres; Marryat, Florence; Warden, Gertrude


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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14198/fem.2005.5.03

Copyright (c) 2005 Corinne François Deneve

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