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The Woman Who Did

From the original edition,
illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley
The Woman Who Did (1895) is a novel by Grant Allen about a young, self-assured middle-class woman who defies convention as a matter of principle and who is fully prepared to suffer the consequences of her actions. It was first published in London by John Lane[?] in a series intended to promote the ideal of the "New Woman[?]". Allen was sympathetic to the feminist cause and saw his novel as a means to propagate women's rights. However, the novel was controversial right from the start, with conservative readers as well as feminists criticizing Allen for the heroine he had invented. For example, Victoria Crosse[?] wrote her novel The Woman Who Didn't[?] (1895) as a response to Allen's book.

Warning: Wikipedia contains spoilers

Herminia Barton, the Cambridge-educated daughter of a clergyman, frees herself from her parents' influence, moves to London and starts living alone. As she is not a woman of independent means, she starts working as a teacher. When she meets and falls in love with Alan Merrick, a lawyer, she suggests they live together without getting married. Reluctantly, he agrees, and the couple move to Italy. There, in Florence, Merrick dies of typhoid before their daughter Dolores is born. Legal technicalities and the fact that the couple were not married prevent Herminia from inheriting any of Merrick's money.

Dreaming of being a role model for Dolores and her friends, Herminia returns to England and raises her daughter as a single mother. She wants to show the younger generation that even as a woman there is something one can do about the unfair position of women in society -- a small step maybe, but with more and larger steps to follow soon. However, Dolores turns out to be ashamed of her mother's unmarried state and gradually turns against her. Eventually, Herminia chooses to make a huge sacrifice for her daughter's benefit and commits suicide.

Whereas Herminia Barton questions the institution of marriage by refusing to get married herself, Victoria Crosse's heroine Eurydice Williamson -- "the woman who didn't" -- remains faithful to her impossible husband although, during a passage from India, she meets a man who falls in love with her.

The motif of the ungrateful child has been frequently treated, notably by James M. Cain in Mildred Pierce and by Arthur Schnitzler in his novel Therese[?].

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Note: "She-Note Series" is an allusion to John Lane's "Keynote Series" in which The Woman Who Did was published.

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