When I signed up for Dr. Alexis Easley’s Women Writers and Celebrity: The Victorian Era, I wanted to read books written about and by women and we did that, but that class was more than just a bunch of books that involved women. That class taught me how important and amazing women and women writers are. We focused mainly on women writers between 1880-1920 during the fin de siècle period. These novels were categorized as “New Woman” novels due to the independent main female characters that didn’t fit the stereotypical Victorian Woman.
In addition to that English class, I also went to a Feminist Friday talk on campus presented by Dr. Britain Scott from the Psychology department titled “Babes and the woods: Women’s objectification and the feminine beauty ideal as ecological hazards.” Dr. Scott’s talk was about ecofeminism, how women are connected to nature, and how that connection influences every part of her. Ecofeminism is defined as the movement that focuses on the education, preservation, and protection of the natural world while also aiming to dismantle the unjustified domination of women, people of color, children, the poor. The intersections of the class and this talk and my weekly meetings with FemCom (UST’s Feminist Community) sparked a profound interest in Women’s Studies and women writers.
One of the novels I read in class tied the talk, my interests, and the class together perfectly. Ella Hepworth Dixon’s The Story of a Modern Woman illustrates the interconnections between women and nature in a New Woman novel. I picked apart the actions the main character, Mary Erle, made in regards to the nature that surrounded her and how it changed her and her thoughts. I wrote my final paper on ecofeminist theory and New Woman novels by incorporating the ecofeminist points made in the “Babes and the woods” talk and The Story of a Modern Woman. After discussing with Dr. Easley about how I could further my studies on this connection, she suggested I apply for the Young Scholars Research Grant. I had never heard of it, but I was all excited about it. I worked on the proposal for the grant by consulting with Dr. Easley about what novels from this period would work well for this project and what kind of format it should be in. From there, I waited for an answer.
After I received the congratulations for the research grant, I immediately began compiling lists of novels, textbooks, and articles about the Victorian era, ecofeminism, feminism, New Woman novels, and the environment. I even went to the Annual Celebration of Undergraduate Research to see what research at St. Thomas was like. My research began and I never thought it would be as successful as it was.
My argument began as justifying early ecofeminism theory as beginning in the Victorian era in Great Britain rather than in the 1970s in the U.S.A.
As I read novels like Olive Schreiner’s The Story of an African Farm (1883), Sarah Grand’s The Heavenly Twins (1893), Ella Hepworth Dixon’s The Story of a Modern Woman (1894), Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure (1895), and Sarah Grand’s The Beth Book (1897), I made note of the ecofeminist theory and ideology, the use of nature imagery and language, and the connections the characters have with nature. The more novels I read, the more my argument became not only plausible, but possible. Once I connected my findings with points made in books like Karen Warren’s Ecofeminist Philosophy: A Western Perspective on What it is and Why it Matters and Irene Diamond’s Reweaving the World: The Emergence of Ecofeminism, I knew I had something worthwhile on my hands.
As the summer drew to a close, my research transformed into something more tailored and precise, focusing mainly on the dualisms existing in patriarchal society like male/female, body/mind, reason/emotion, etc. and how ecofeminism dismantles those dualisms. The novels I chose to illustrate the importance of this connection within New Woman novels were Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, Schreiner’s The Story of an African Farm, and Grand’s The Heavenly Twins. I chose these specifically because they illustrate better than any other New Woman novels that I read the importance of stripping the patriarchy of its power over society with harmful dualisms. This concept is not only important to ecofeminism, but all feminisms.
My experience with the Young Scholars Research Grant, Dr. Easley, Dr. Scott, the librarians, and the books I read has been amazing and has been the catalyst for me as a scholar. As a senior this year, I plan to continue with research on women, English, and ecofeminism in any way that I can.
Melanie Kraemer is a senior majoring in English with a Writing Emphasis and double minoring in Communications and Journalism and Women’s Studies. She is the Vice President of Lit Club and a member of FemCom. She hopes to one day publish a book of poetry.