During the Victorian Period, which took place between 1837 through 1901, there were many different attitudes among the people. At the beginning, it started out that the people were very prudeish and would never talk about sex. Because of this, people during this time thought about sex the most just because they had to pretty much keep it a secret. Towards the end of the century, however, there was the beginning of “The New Woman”. This was a woman who was seen to be independent. She worked, had a higher education, wore pants and supported herself. These women also broke the societal norms when it came to marriage and motherhood. Many of them did not get married because they thought it would be hard to find equality and marriage and when it came to having children, some tended to put their careers first. This ideal of “The New Woman” was presented in the play Mrs Warren’s Profession written by George Bernard Shaw. Vivie, in Act 4, presents herself as “The New Woman” when talking with Frank, Mr. Praed and her mother, Mrs. Warren. She does this by smoking, not being interesting in marriage and romance, not following the societal norms for women and by talking about how she wants to be independent.
In the play Mrs Warren’s Profession, Act 4 seems to take an interesting turn. Vivie is visited by Frank at her new workplace. Vivie asks him of he would like to smoke and then Frank replies, “[Pushing the cigar box across.] Nasty womanly habit. Nice men dont do it any longer” (Shaw 1819). This is an interesting quote because of Frank’s wording. He uses “nasty” and “womanly habit”. The word nasty is used to mean gross, but nasty just sounds more harsh. Along with that, implying that it’s a “womanly habit” makes him seem like he is against Vivie with her new woman image and habits. Also, when he says “nice men dont do it any longer”, he is implying that the only people who smoke are women and scummy men. When looking into this, it seems as though Frank is completely against Vivie and the way she is choosing to live her life at the time. He is trying to bring her down by using a word such as nasty and then saying that nice men don’t smoke anymore is intended to be a low blow. The best part is that Vivie smokes in front of him anyway.
Another aspect of “The New Woman” ideal was not wanting to get married because of the fear of not finding equality in a relationship and then marriage could also mean that they would have to give up their work and essentially their independence. Vivie was having a conversation Frank and Mr. Praed and she was getting frustrated with the fact that Frank wanted Vivie to be his wife and Praed wanted Vivie to travel the world with him to enjoy art and the beauty of the world. Vivie says, “…But there are two subjects I want dropped, if you dont mind. One of them [To FRANK] is love’s young dream in any shape or form; the other [To PRAED] is the romance and beauty of life… If we three are to remain friends, I must be treated as a woman of business, permanently single [To FRANK] and permanently unromantic. [To PRAED]” (Shaw 1822). This quote is interesting to look at because Vivie is addressing both Frank and Mr. Praed saying that she doesn’t want what they want for her. When looking at this, it is interesting how she uses “love’s young dream”. Vivie most likely says this because growing up most girls would dream of falling in love and Viv just doesn’t feel that way at all. She also talks about “the romance and beauty of life”. To her, she is talking about art and traveling to different cities. Vivie is so focused on work that she doesn’t want to be in a relationship and she doesn’t want to take time off of work to see other places and to look at art. She also wants to be treats as “a woman of business”. This shows how focused she is on her work and her dedication to work. Vivie also says she will be “permanently single” and “permanently unromantic”. She is sticking with her ways of depending on herself and only herself. This quote supports the New Woman because these women in particular did not want to be married and instead of traveling and seeing the world, they wanted to focus on themselves. Vivie is essentially isolating herself so she can be an independent woman.
Being independent was one of the main reasons why “The New Woman” was so important. Women were finally doing things for themselves and didn’t want to be supported by a man or their families. Vivie, when talking to her mother towards the end of the act, decides to give her mother her money back. She says, “Its my month’s allowance. They sent it to me as usual the other day. I simply sent it back to be placed to your credit, and asked them to send you the lodgment receipt. In future I shall support myself” (Shaw 1826). In this quote, Vivie is returning her mother’s money because she doesn’t want to be dependent on her, or her business anymore. It’s interesting how she has an “allowance” seeing she has been through college but her mother still seems to give her money. Viv saying “I shall support myself” really shows how set in her ways of being an independent woman she is. She is working and making money for herself so she doesn’t need anyone else to give money to her. This goes along with the New Woman because she is striving to be independent and she literally cuts ties with her mother and her mother’s money in order to do so.
Lastly, the entire “New Woman” ideal was to stray away from the societal norms of women and what had been expected of them up until this point. Vivie is talking with Frank and Mr. Praed about her mother and her business and why she is doing what she is. Vivie says, “…There is nothing I despise more than the wicked convention that protects these things by forbidding a woman to mention them” (Shaw 1823). The words “wicked convention” really stand out. Using these two words together is interesting because wicked means morally wrong or evil while convention means the way something is usually done. Viv is pretty much saying here that she hated how things that are morally wrong but are usually done are things that women cannot talk about here. Here, she is referring to her mother’s prostitution business. During the Victorian Period, sex and prostitution was not something that was talked about because of their prudish behavior. Because of this, Vivie cannot tell people why she is becoming so independent so quickly, but she also hates the fact that she cannot say what she is feeling. Eventually she writes out what she wants to say but Vivie’s goal throughout this play is to break thought the societal norms for women and create her own path.
Overall, Vivie is exactly how “The New Woman” is suppose to be. She smokes, has a higher education, doesn’t believe in marriage or romantic things, she is striving for independence, and she is going against the societal norms. This mentality was a new way of thinking for all women because before this time, getting married and being a mother was really the only option women had. Now, with high education being available to women, they could go and get an education and get a successful job and support themselves. Being independent from men was a huge step for women but it lead the way to so many successes for women not only then, but now as well. Thank you, Vivie, for inspiring women for so many centuries.
Here’s a video talking about “The New Woman”.
Greenblatt, Stephen, and Meyer H. Abrams. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ninth ed., E, Norton, 2012.
Eine, Victoria, et al., directors. The Fallen Women and The New Woman. YouTube, YouTube, 9 June 2015, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVHTwfHAGSQ.