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Mathilde Blind’s (Proto-) New Women

By James Diedrick

Mathilde called. She has now written a chapter of her new novel,
which is to deal with the efforts of Englishwomen to make a position in professions etc.
William Michael Rossetti, Diary, 4 April 1881 1

She was in favour of women following all callings, except the military and naval, and when invited
by the present writer to consider the consequence of throwing a mass of cheap labour
into occupations much overstocked, she rejoined, with decision, that the men might emigrate.
Richard Garnett, “Memoir” (18), 1900

On the evening of 31 May 1893, Mathilde Blind took the chair as the president of the Women Writers’ Dinner, held at the Criterion Restaurant in London and attended by some 50 of her fellow writers, including Katherine Hinkson (née Tynan), Alice Meynell and Elizabeth Sharp. 2 By this time Blind was widely recognized as a leading light of the radical wing of the no longer forgotten female aesthetes. She identified most closely with Vernon Lee, Graham R. Tomson, Amy Levy, Mona Caird, and Violet Hunt—all of whom, in Ana Parejo Vadillo’s words, shared “subversive ideas on sexual politics” and “unequivocally negated any form of theist belief” (30). She had published five volumes of poetry, a novel, two biographies for the Eminent Women series (on George Eliot and Madame Roland), a translation of David Strauss’s The Old Faith and the New: A Confession, and essays and reviews for the Westminster Review, Fortnightly Review, National Review, Whitehall Review, New Quarterly Magazine, Examiner, and The Athenaeum. Moreover, her 1890 translation of The Journal of Marie Bashkirtseff, which followed closely on her two-part essay on the Russian-born painter for Oscar Wilde’s The Woman’s World, had become a publishing sensation and intensified fin-de-siècle debates concerning gender and sexual identity. It also outsold everything else she published, even before the 1985 Virago Press reissue.

Three months after this dinner, the Woman’s Herald introduced a label for Blind and women like her that would dominate subsequent late-century cultural discourse: the “New Woman.”  “Without warning,” the Herald announced, “woman suddenly appears on the scene of man's activities, as a sort of new creation, and demands a share in the struggles, the responsibilities and the honours of the world, in which, until now, she has been a cipher” (“Social Standing of the New Woman”). 3 Sally Ledger and others have argued that the New Woman and the discursive formation it signifies have a pre-history dating back to the 1880s, and indeed, the Women Writers’ Dinner, founded in 1889 as the “Literary Ladies’ Dinner” (Blind attended the inaugural meeting), is one chapter in this history. But in this essay I want to use the example of Blind both to extend the dates of this pre-history and to demonstrate Blind’s important role in creating it, specifically in the realm of prose. While the ways in which her poetry expresses New Woman themes has received extensive critical attention (Armstrong; Blain; Diedrick; Hughes; LaPorte; Lyons; Moine; Patricia Murphy; Rudy; Wilhelm), less has been said about her significant achievements in a variety of prose genres.

Elsewhere I have written about how the women speakers in her poetry express autonomy, agency, antitheism, and sexual desire in ways that embody late-century feminist concerns; here I will argue that several of her major prose works also constitute representations of New Women avant la lettre. Her essay on Mary Wollstonecraft (1878) and her biography of Madame Roland (1886), for instance, view both women as embodying attitudes and ideas that anticipate New Woman concerns, their revolutionary commitments preparing the way for the kinds of late-Victorian social and legal reforms Blind advocated, supported, and used her writing to promote. Significantly, in writing about these two foremothers Blind foregrounds the ways in which their lives embodied or anticipated the very things Sally Mitchell has identified as central to New Woman discourse: political activism on behalf of women’s rights; the extension of behaviors and living arrangements previously associated with working-class women to middle-class women; and a new openness about sexual desire. Blind’s biography of George Eliot, her biographical essays on Marie Bashkirtseff, and her short story about an English painter rising to prominence and fame in her profession (“At Cross Purposes” 1892), constitute profiles of proto-New Woman in England and on the Continent while also expressing her own self-conception as a professional artist. In the case of her Eliot biography and her overlooked short story (which supplements the New Woman fiction Elaine Showalter gathered in her collection Daughters of Decadence), Blind represents contemporary professional women whose lives exemplify the freedoms their predecessors envisioned. “At Cross Purposes,” Blind’s last work of fiction and the last of her prose works, represents a tantalizing trace of the New Woman novel she discussed with William Michael Rossetti but never completed, a celebration of one imagined woman’s professional ascendancy written when its author was herself in the ascendant. 4 By concluding with a discussion of the correspondences between this story and Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, I will show how Blind’s career and writing are part of a larger cultural trajectory that bridges the Victorian-Modernist divide. 5

As a lifelong feminist, socialist, and antitheist, Mathilde Blind was militant in her commitment to all the major struggles for freedom—from oppressive regimes, patriarchal ideologies, and religious systems—that engaged progressives throughout the long nineteenth century. Her 1870 Westminster Review essay on Rossetti's edition of the poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley—the first work she published under her own name—boldly praises Prometheus Unbound as an “enfant terrible” of a poem designed to “take by storm” “that triple-headed power which rules the world”: “theology, monarchy, and matrimony” (87). Her writing had similar designs. In radical republican circles, as Michelle Hawley has written, “poetry played a symbolic role,” and “Shelley’s name was a virtual synonym for utopian politics” (86). Blind agreed with the revolutionary views of William Michael Rossetti, who in his memoir of Shelley, which he was working on when Algernon Charles Swinburne first introduced him to Blind on 9 July 1869, noted that Shelley’s most productive years “were years of revolution,” completing this sentence in terms that made it clear that the revolution had not yet run its course: “indeed what years, since the great disintegration of 1789–93, have not been so? And how many more are we not destined to see until the world of those mighty days shall be in some approximate degree openly accepted and firmly constituted?” (The Poetical Works cxxx).

For Blind, the struggle for women’s rights was central to the unfinished business of this revolution. Blind was 25 years old in 1866, the year when organized campaigns for women’s suffrage began to appear in England, and she learned of this and earlier activity directly from Caroline Stansfield, a near neighbor and close friend of her mother and stepfather. In the 1840s Stansfield had worked for causes like the Associate Institution, organized to reform the laws relating to prostitution, and served on the executive council of the Whittington Club, a radical experiment in equal adult education. In 1867 Stansfield joined the London Society for Women’s Suffrage, formed when John Stuart Mill’s amendment to the Reform Bill giving women the same political rights as men failed to pass. This was the very year Blind launched her writing career with the pseudonymous volume Poems (by “Claude Lake”), dedicated to the Italian nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini and infused with the revolutionary poetic spirit of Shelley.

The Past as Prologue

Both Blind’s Westminster Review essay and her 9 January 1870 lecture on Shelley are important to the pre-history of New Woman discourse, not just because of Shelley’s intellectual affinity and familial relationship with Mary Wollstonecraft but because Blind identifies Shelley, alongside Wollstonecraft herself, as an “unacknowledged legislator” of woman’s rights (“Shelley” 88). She told her Westminster Review readers that while previously “all poets creating ideals of woman . . . had depicted her invariably in relation as either wife or mistress, mother or daughter—that is, as a supplement to man’s nature,” Shelley imagined Cythna (in The Revolt of Islam) as “a new female type”—a self-determining agent, not a supplement (“Shelley” 88). As William Keach has noted about this claim, “Mathilde Blind’s insight persists: in Shelley’s revisionary revolutionary fiction Cythna claims her own mind as ‘the type of all’ by becoming self-consciously the producer of historically constrained yet liberating supplements” (115-16).

The “fundamental idea” of the poem,” Blind writes, “and one which hitherto has been overlooked[,]. . . is the completely changed aspect in which the relation of the sexes is regarded” (“Shelley” 88). In Blind’s view, even Wollstonecraft herself falls short of the Cythna ideal in the rhetoric she often employs in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. “She never wearies of expressing her respect for family life ‘as the foundation of almost every social virtue,’” Blind writes in her 1878 essay “Mary Wollstonecraft,” adding tartly that A Vindication “might perhaps with more justice be called the Duties instead of the Rights of Woman. For its authoress is eloquent on the subject of the former; and it is in a great measure that they may properly fulfil their various duties as wives and mothers, sisters and daughters, that she claims for them certain rights” (398).

Blind never loses sight of Wollstonecraft’s historical importance in this essay, however, or the importance of her life and writings to contemporary debates. Blind realizes that in writing about Wollstonecraft she is introducing her readers to a “new” woman—someone whose life, career, and significance had been suppressed for much of the nineteenth century.  Describing her as “the author of a treatise, the first in our language, on a subject which in our day has roused such ardent partisanship and antagonism” (397), Blind writes that A Vindication “has enjoyed the doubtful privilege of looming in the imagination of the reading world as a terra incognita of the most daring and subversive speculations concerning women” (398). In re-introducing Wollstonecraft to her contemporaries, Blind slyly revises the central argument of A Vindication, removing the gender essentialism that often compromises it: “One may say that the fundamental idea running through this work, is that women, like men, should primarily be considered rational creatures, whose understandings, if properly cultivated, might serve for their guidance in life without constant masculine assistance . . .” (399). Proceeding from this assumption, education could allow women both independence and social mobility. Rather than becoming “down-trodden governesses” (Wollstonecraft’s early fate), or “still more despised ‘milliners and mantua-makers,’” women “might, instead, engage in various kinds of trade, turn clerks and artificers, or practice as physicians” (399). It was this very idea, with its implication of taking jobs away from men, that caused Garnett some alarm when Blind put it to him during one of their conversations (“Memoir” 18). It is a measure of Blind’s more radical position that she foregrounds this ancillary element of Wollstonecraft’s overall argument—one that would dominate New Woman discourse—and proclaim its centrality.

This argument had special relevance for Blind and her fellow women writers, of course, who made up a growing number of women making their livings by the pen. Blind gives special emphasis and pride of place to Wollstonecraft as a pioneering professional. She writes that in 1788, Wollstonecraft “formed the resolution of devoting herself to literature and becoming, as she aptly puts it, ‘the first of a new genus’” (396). Blind acknowledges that “England boasted of not a few authoresses, as is proved by such names as Mrs. Barbauld, Miss Burney, Mrs. Inchbald, Mrs. Radcliffe, Mrs. Opie, &c.” But she adds that “none of them, we believe, determined, in the same spirit of independence, to take up literature as a profession. With the exception of Mrs. Inchbald, who was an actress, they were ladies with homes of their own, writing as amateurs rather than professional authors” (396). Blind sees herself and her own professional and political struggles in Wollstonecraft’s career:

Are we yielding to the notorious weakness of a biographer for his subject in recognizing a gleam of true heroism in the fact of a woman without money, without influential connections, without even the previous advantages of a liberal education, not only taking up the already sufficiently hard struggle of securing an independence–that independence which she nobly says, ‘I will ever secure by contracting my wants, though I were to live on a barren heath,’—but that far more arduous struggle for principles so new and startling, that the person becoming their advocate might expect to be stigmatized as “infamous”? (396)

Continuing to subtly revise Wollstonecraft’s arguments so that they limn her own, in her final paragraph Blind substitutes the word “humanity” for “the family” when summarizing her predecessor’s central belief in the value of education: “women must be educated in a rational manner, and fitted by their social position to co-operate in promoting the welfare of humanity” (412). Blind’s final sentence claims Wollstonecraft as a guiding light in the current struggle: “Although her writings are at this day but little known and still less read, the spirit that animates them has, to a great extent, become part of the thought of our age, and at present many eminent men and women are putting into practice many of the theories she broached nearly a century ago” (412).

In Blind’s view, all of the revolutionary women she admired and wrote about were children of the French Revolution, which, as she writes at the beginning of her Wollstonecraft essay, broke down “old landmarks of society in all directions” (390). This revolution had gripped her imagination since she was a teenager. “You must know,” she wrote to Eminent Women series editor John Ingram in 1883 when negotiating the contract for her biography of Madame Roland (1886), “that when I was eighteen I had the astonishing cheek to write a tragedy on the French Revolution and at that time devoured every book on the subject I could lay my hands on” (ALS 14 September). This helps explain her negative evaluation of Elizabeth Pennell’s 1884 Eminent Women series biography Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin—a biography Blind herself had at one time hoped to write. In her 11 July 1885 Athenaeum review Blind faults Pennell for failing to analyze Wollstonecraft’s life and writing through the lens of the Revolution:

[O]ne great defect of Mrs. Pennell’s life is its want of background. Although we can well follow the history of poets, novelists, and musicians without entering much into the character of the times they lived in, it is different when we come to deal with the lives of religious or social reformers or leaders of revolutionary thought (41).

Implicitly linking Wollstonecraft and Madame Roland, Blind writes that A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is the “offspring of the same intellectual forces that were producing the Revolution on the other side of the Channel; and it was almost imperative on the biographer of Mary Wollstonecraft to have drawn some comparison between the Englishwoman’s way of dealing with this great question and that of her French contemporaries” (41). 

Blind provides these contexts and this comparison in her biography of Madame Roland (born Marie-Jeanne Philipon). She assigns fewer than 100 of its 320 pages to the years up to and including Marie-Jeanne Philipon’s marriage to Jean-Marie Roland in order to focus on the last ten years of her life (1783–93), when she and her husband were increasingly active in revolutionary politics. Even in the early chapters concerning Marie-Jeanne’s childhood and adolescent years, Blind focuses on her wide reading rather than her family, noting that Marie-Jeanne was influenced by Plutarch, Voltaire, and Rousseau, whose Contrat Social Blind calls “the little book which kindled so mighty a conflagration” (125).

Blind consistently addresses her own century while writing about the preceding one.   Discussing the French Encyclopédistes who influenced Marie-Jeanne, those “philosophers, historians, littérateurs, journalists” who had risen from the ranks of the middle class, Blind calls them “impassioned innovators, doughty pioneers, the light brigade of the Thought Militant of human progress. The very sound of the names of them—Voltaire, Diderot, D’Alembert, D’Holbach, Condillac, Helvetius—still rings upon our ears like so many battle-cries” (125). Their goal was to “free men from the bondage of authority in religion and philosophy, to substitute for superstitious terror a faith in human reason and virtue, to transform regret for a lost Paradise to a quenchless belief in the perfectibility of the race” (127). Blind credits these writers with enabling Marie-Jeanne to transform herself from an essentially conservative member of the petite bourgeoisie into an embodiment of the “pure Republican ideal” (161). Blind then issues an imperative to her contemporaries:

Instead of a slavish following of custom, instead of trying to digest the old dough of superannuated ideas, which has spoiled the digestion of so many generations, let us dare to solve the problems of life in our own way and day; let us try and see for ourselves, not take it for granted that all our thinking has been done for us by our ancestors. (23)

Blind acknowledges that even when Madame Roland became, along with her husband, a leader of the Girondists, her “heroism did not consist in braving public opinion; on the contrary, she considered a certain conformity to it as part of the duty which the individual owed to the social compact,—duty to which was, from first to last, the motive spring of her actions” (81). Yet in her Mémoires, which Blind translates and quotes in the biography, Madame Roland voiced the same rebellion against gender constraints that Blind and many of her contemporaries were more openly expressing and enacting: “In truth I am not a little annoyed at being a woman. I ought either to have had another sex, another soul, or another country. I ought to have been a Spartan or a Roman woman, or at least a Frenchman. As the latter I should have chosen the Republic of Letters for my country” (75). After quoting this passage, Blind observes that “in spite of stoicism, philosophy, and a wise reflection on the noble functions of wifehood and motherhood, was it possible for such a nature as that not to rebel against the tyranny of petticoats?” (75). Matrimony was one form of tyranny Blind herself consistently rebelled against, along with Mona Caird and other members of the radical wing of the New Woman movement, and she hears this New Woman in Madame Roland’s lament. When summarizing William Godwin’s attitude toward marriage in her Wollstonecraft essay Blind was also expressing her own: “He considered it wrong, nay immoral, for a person to appropriate another, as happens in matrimony” (410).

For this reason, Blind’s treatment of  Madame Roland’s love for the Girondist deputy François Leonard Buzot, which developed just as Robespierre and his Jacobin allies were gaining ascendancy over the Girondists, hints at the radical ideas concerning free monogamous unions that Blind, Olive Schreiner, and Karl Pearson were discussing as members of the Men and Women’s Club (founded in 1885), which drew together socialist and feminist intellectuals to discuss gender, sexuality, marriage, and the Woman Question. During the five months Madame Roland spent in prison before her execution, Blind writes that

 Once her conjugal bonds had been forcibly wrenched asunder, she welcomed the prison as a deliverance from her invisible captivity, cherishing the fetters which left her free to love her friend unrestrictedly, and thanking Heaven for having substituted her present chains for those which she had previously born. (258; emphasis Blind)

In this way “the Revolution, by loosening the bonds of custom, by stimulating the vital energies[,] … prepared the soil for those insurrections of the heart and heroisms of love so pathetically interwoven with its political history” (259). Madame Roland appeared in the middle of a decade when the laws governing marriage, divorce, and relations between the sexes were literally loosening, as evidenced by the Married Women’s Property Act of 1882, the 1884 passage of a law in France granting women the right to divorce, and the Infants Act of 1886. And Blind wrote most of the biography while near or in the company of the married painter Ford Madox Brown, with whom she maintained an emotionally intimate relationship for over 15 years (Diedrick, Mathilde Blind; Thirlwell, 169-244).

As she was writing her Madame Roland manuscript in the spring of 1884, William Michael Rossetti expressed some concern that Blind’s sympathy for her subject would weaken her own revolutionary beliefs, recording in his diary on 25 March, “I see she is now quite set against Robespierre and in favour of the Girondins” (Rossetti, Diary, File 4). But throughout her biography Blind sides with the revolutionaries of recent history—with Thomas Paine and against Edmund Burke, with Rousseau and against Carlyle. Rejecting Carlyle’s “strenuous teaching that Might is Right” while fully aware that “we bred up in the Darwinian era” must treat Rousseau’s “rose-colored visions of a primitive state of nature” skeptically, Blind insists that Rousseau’s political idealism “is nevertheless in harmony with the highest conception of justice,—justice which, like music, has its origin in the soul of man only; the most purely human of the virtues, and which is the goal towards which society is slowly and painfully making its way” (129–30). She concludes her biography by celebrating the Revolution for having “modified the political and social life of Europe” and reminding her readers “there has never yet in the world’s history been a fresh incarnation of the idea without violent convulsions” (318).

If Rossetti was concerned about Blind’s radical commitments, her 6 January 1886 letter likely assuaged him. It also demonstrates the connections between her biographies of revolutionary women and her own commitment to women’s rights, including the rights of working-class women. She describes her attendance at a meeting sponsored by the Social Democratic Federation (SDF), the first Marxist party in Britain, which held a series of demonstrations in the years 1885–87 to agitate for “A Right to Work.” Blind’s friend Eleanor Marx had joined the SDF in 1881, though in 1885 she broke with the party and formed the Socialist League with William Morris and her common-law husband Edward Aveling. Whatever misgivings Blind had about the SDF, she supported their demonstrations on behalf of women laborers. “I have no doubt that good will come of it and that some efficacious and practical measures will be the result of the agitation,” Blind told Rossetti. “I thoroughly agreed with the Social Democrats that the starvation wages for which women have to work at present are to a great extent the source of their wretched degradation. I think everyone might do a little towards remedying this state of affairs.” The following year the SDF and the Irish National League would make common cause and co-sponsor a mass demonstration in support of the unemployed in Trafalgar Square, which came to be known as Bloody Sunday because of the “violent convulsions” that resulted. 6

George Eliot and Marie Bashkirtseff

Given Blind’s revolutionary ideals, it is not surprising that her 1884 biography of George Eliot mixes unqualified praise for Eliot’s preeminence as a novelist, (the greatest of English novelists in Blind’s view) with oblique expressions of disappointment at Eliot’s political quietism. In discussing Eliot’s most political novel, Felix Holt the Radical, Blind dutifully but unenthusiastically notes that the novel’s “advice” is “mainly to the effect that genuine political and social improvements to be endurable must be the result of inward change rather than of outward legislation.” She adds that Eliot “dwells once again, with solemn insistence,” on the fact that “the inheritance of evil transmitted from generation to generation” is “too intimately entwined with the complex conditions of society to be violently uprooted, but only to be gradually eradicated” (233). 7  Eliot’s associations with many of the freethinkers and republicans Blind called friends (Clementia and Peter Taylor, Moncure Conway, Justin McCarthy, Francis Hueffer) led Blind to assume that like her own views concerning women’s independence, Eliot’s political views were more radical than those expressed in her novels. Indeed, Blind’s 11 October 1882 letter to G. J. Holyoake reveals that even during the proofreading stage of her Eliot biography she was still searching for evidence to support her supposition.  Holyoake was the freethinking socialist colleague of Charles Bradlaugh and James (B.V.) Thomson and the last man to be imprisoned in England on a charge of blasphemy; in 1870 he co-founded the cooperative movement in England. He promoted the movement in his journal The Reasoner and published The History of Co-operation in England in 1877. Blind had heard from William Hale White (who wrote freethinking novels under the pseudonym Mark Rutherford) that Eliot had written Holyoake a letter “on the subject of cooperation,” and she hoped Holyoake could produce it. Blind tells Holyoake that she is writing a biography of Eliot, and though

  [M]y book is finished . . . I am nevertheless able to add anything of great interest. If you can think of anything concerning her political opinions, for example, that it might be important for me to add I need not say how much obliged I should be to you if you would tell me. (ALS 11 October 1882)

Blind writes that Middlemarch “is the only work of George Eliot’s . . . in which there is a distinct indication of her attitude towards the aspirations and clearly formulated demands of the women of the nineteenth century,” adding that “her many sarcastic allusions to the stereotyped theory about woman’s sphere show on which side her sympathies were enlisted” (185). And she pointedly notes that among Eliot’s “most intimate friends” were those who had “initiated and organized the Woman’s Suffrage Movement” (186), including their mutual friend Clementia Taylor. In his 5 May 1883 Athenaeum review of Blind’s biography, Theodore Watts-Dunton emphasizes the radical nature of Eliot’s own intellectual development, including her receptivity to the new “cosmogony subversive of every system of thought that had gone before” (565). 8 He goes on to observe that Eliot, “with sympathies that may be almost called Shakespearean in width and Shelleyan in intensity,” experienced personal distress before accepting this new cosmic conception. Because Eliot emerged from this intellectual and emotional struggle “first as a rebel against God, and then as a rebel against man—first as a freethinker, and then as the companion of another woman’s husband” (565), there is something deeply ironic about her life and career, Watts-Dunton notes. As he says, “The greatest ethical teacher, and perhaps the loftiest writers, of the age was in her own life in revolt against the age’s moral no less than against its religious sanctions” (566). Watts-Dunton writes that this places the biographer in a “delicate” position, and that Blind deftly balances sympathy with critical irony in writing of a “woman, who in her own life had followed such an independent source, severing herself in many ways from her past with all its traditional sanctities,” even while she inculcated “the very opposite teaching, in her works . . . an almost slavish adherence to whatever surroundings, beliefs and family ties a human being may be born to” (566).

Whatever her misgivings about the politics of Eliot’s novels, Blind clearly identified with the writer herself—as an independent woman, as an antitheist, and as a professional woman of letters. In other words, a New Woman ahead of her time. Eliot had translated David Strauss’s demythologizing work Das Leben Jesu (The Life of Jesus) in 1846, which was one inspiration for Blind’s own translation of Strauss’s last work, Der Alte und der Neue Glaube: Ein Bekenntnis (The Old Faith and the New: A Confession) in 1873. Eliot also contributed to (and helped edit) the Westminster Review; published an 1855 essay that broke the mid-Victorian silence on Wollstonecraft (“Margaret Fuller and Mary Wollstonecraft”); and wrote poetry in addition to her fiction. Despite being “instinctively conservative,” as Blind puts it in her biography, Eliot was the first to represent “the modern positive spirit in imaginative literature,” the only novelist “who has incorporated in an artistic form some of the leading ideas of Comte, of Mazzini, and of Darwin” (7–8), as Blind herself did in her longer poems. 9 Eliot’s and Blind’s lives were also aligned in important ways, from their long-term residence in the bohemian enclave of St. John’s Wood, where they were near neighbors (but apparently never met), to their mutual friendships with Conway, W. K. and Lucy Clifford, Peter and Clementia Taylor, William Michael Rossetti, and Anne Gilchrist. Moreover, Eliot’s own life choices, if not her treatment of the female characters in her fiction, exhibited the same defiant independence prized by Blind.

Finally, Blind saw Eliot as a woman writer who, at least early in her career, was treated unfairly in the literary marketplace—just as she was. Describing the years of effort Eliot expended on the Strauss translation, Blind writes that “none of her novels cost George Eliot half the effort and toil which this translation had done. Yet so badly is this kind of literary work remunerated, that twenty pounds was the sum paid for what had cost three years of hard labour!” (44–45). When Blind translated Strauss’s last work nearly thirty years later, she was paid £25. At the time, Blind was subsisting on a small inheritance from her father, Jacob Cohen, and starting to receive modest payments for her reviews. (Theodore Watts-Dunton told William Michael Rossetti that the Athenaeum paid £2.2 per article of two to three columns.) “Literature,” as Blind writes in George Eliot, “unless in certain cases of triumphant popularity, is perhaps the worst paid of all work” (92). 10 She wrote bitterly to Garnett on 3 March 1873 about “the absurd price” she was being paid for her Strauss translation, adding that “I heard the other day that he had given 50 guineas for some translation of a mythological work & feel considerably annoyed to think that probably because I am a woman he has offered me so pitiful a sum.”

Unlike Eliot, however, Blind benefitted from the emergence of organizations that supported women writers. Eliot died in 1880, four years before the formation of the Society of Authors, which gave advice and guidance to women as well as men concerning royalties and copyright. It also provided the kinds of professional contacts women writers increasingly relied on. Society Council member William Morris Colles, for example, acted as Blind’s literary agent in the early 1890s and found new markets for her work. 11 The formation of the Society of Authors in 1884 coincided with Blind’s increasing prominence and reputation as a writer, enhanced by the reception of The Prophecy of St. Oran (1881), George Eliot (1883), Madame Roland and The Heather on Fire (1886), The Ascent of Man (1889), and The Journal of Marie Bashkirtseff  (1890). In 1890 she was the subject of profiles in the Women’s Penny Paper (14 June) and Woman (3 July). 12 “A Chat with Mathilde Blind” in the “Notes on Notables” section of the 3 July issue of Woman begins by stating “everyone familiar with the current thought and literature of the day knows the name of Mathilde Blind.” The anonymous writer then praises “the admirable Life of Madame Roland[,] . . . certainly the most graphic and accurate picture of the great revolutionary heroine ever penned in England, or, for that matter, in France” and also notes the sensation caused by Blind’s translation of Marie Bashkirtseff’s Journal, “that strange laying bare of a woman’s soul, only to be compared in its nude intensity to the confessions of Jean Jacques Rousseau and Le Journal des Goncourts” (“Notes on Notables”).

Blind’s 1890 translation of this journal increased her cultural prominence and put both Blind and Bashkirtseff at the center of New Woman debates. The Russian-born painter Marie Bashkirtseff died at age twenty-three in 1884, achieving her greatest fame not with her canvasses but as a result of the posthumous publication of her Journal, originally issued in French in 1887. It was the French edition that William Gladstone read and reviewed in the October 1889 issue of the Nineteenth Century, after having read Blind’s essay on Bashkirtseff in the July and August issues of Woman’s World, which introduced the Journal to British readers. Gladstone calls it “a book without parallel,” a phrase that became part of the marketing campaign for Blind’s translation. Observing that important personal and family details about Bashkirtseff’s life are missing from the journal, Gladstone notes that “fortunately, there is to be found in The Woman’s World a vivid and striking paper, signed ‘Mathilde Blind,’ which furnishes much needful information for such as may desire to obtain it” (“Journal de Marie Bashkirtseff” 602).

Blind’s linguistic choices in her 1890 translation of Bashkirtseff’s Journal reveal her conviction that Bashkirtseff was a nascent New Woman. As Kabi Hartman notes in her essay comparing Blind’s translation to Mary Serrano’s 1889 version, Blind’s translation emphasizes “the question of how gender affects the project of (self-) representation” and challenges “its readers to think more deeply about the splitting effect of patriarchal culture on artistic women” (Hartman 78). While Serrano omitted from her version many passages in which Bashkirtseff expresses anger at the constraints she faced as a female, and in which she muses about sex and gender in terms that Blind and other New Woman writers found so compelling, Blind foregrounds them. In her 14 November 1877 entry, for instance, Bashkirtseff writes of a walk she took to the Latin Quarter in Paris to buy books and plaster casts for her study of anatomy in painting. She is thrilled to be walking alone in the streets: “j’ai compris la magie . . . du quarter Latin.” Then she interrupts herself with the following observation: “Je n’ai de la femme que l’envelope, et cette enveloppe est diablement féminine; quant au reste, il est diablement autre chose. Ce n’est pas moi qui le dis, puisque je m’imagine que toutes les femmes sont comme moi” (Journal 1:220).

Serrano omitted this passage entirely from her translation; Blind renders it thus: “‘I have nothing of the woman about me but the envelope, and that envelope is deucedly feminine. As for the rest, that’s quite another affair. It is not I who say this, since it seems to me that all women are like myself” (Journal 1:371). In his essay on the Journal, William Gladstone quotes fragments from this passage in French, while framing them in decidedly patriarchal terms: “[Bashkirtseff] did not possess the finer graces which we signify by the epithet feminine. Of this she was sufficiently conscious. ‘Oh si j’étais seulement un homme!’ . . . More roundly she declares, ‘Je n’ai de la femme que l’enveloppe’” (602). The journalist William Stead, editor of the Review of Reviews, selected Bashkirtseff’s Journal as the book of the month for June 1890, and offered his own translation of this passage: “It is ‘only the envelope of me that is feminine, deucedly feminine,’ she says, and the envelope does not go deep down. Of the distinctively womanly there is in her but little trace” (544). 13

Blind’s friend and fellow New Woman writer Helen Zimmern also translated this passage in her 1889 Blackwood’s essay on Bashkirtseff: “‘Of the woman I have only the envelope,’ she says, in the elation of a morning’s rout, which had shocked her mother, among the shops of the Quartier Latin—‘and this envelope is devilishly feminine; as to the rest, it is devilishly something else. It is not I who say so, since I imagine that all women are like myself’” (316). While Blind’s translation softens “diablement” to “deucedly,” both include the end of the quotation, where Bashkirtseff claims that all women share these thoughts, whereas both Gladstone and Stead omit it. Blind and Zimmern also do justice to Bashkirtseff’s “envelope” metaphor, whereas both Gladstone and Stead insist that it indicates her lack of “womanliness.” Blind actually extends the metaphor throughout her translation by using it again whenever Bashkirtseff uses French word peau, commonly referring to “skin.” In a passage where Bashkirtseff writes in French that “je grogne d’être femme, parce que je n’en ai que la peau,” (Journal 1:251) for instance, Blind translates, “I grumble at being a woman because there is nothing of the woman about me but the envelope” (Journal 2:6). As Hartman points out, by thus repeating the word “envelope” in passages like this one, “Blind interprets Bashkirtseff’s overarching frustration with the condition of women in general” (74). Blind initially invoked this metaphor in her Woman’s World essay, writing of Bashkirtseff’s affair with “Cardinalino A.” that “it was only the feminine envelope after all that was under the spell, her intellect standing aloof, coldly critical all the while” (“Marie Bashkirtseff” 354).

As her introduction to the translation makes clear, Blind identified with Bashkirtseff—her artistic ambition, her rage at gender constraints, her iconoclasm—and sees her as a nascent New Woman. In language that anticipates the title as well as the content of her 1891 verse volume Dramas in Miniature, she calls Bashkirtseff’s story:

[T]he drama of a woman’s soul; at odds with destiny, as such a soul must needs be, when endowed with great powers and possibilities, under the present social conditions; where the wish to live, of letting whatever energies you possess have their full play in action, is continually thwarted by the impediments and restrictions of sex. (Journal 1:vii)

Writing that Bashkirtseff “is made up of heterogeneous elements,” and that “her mutability of mood is a constant surprise to the reader,” Blind associates this heterogeneity with the fin de siècle temper itself: “she was too intensely modern for repose” (Journal 1:viii, ix). Near the end of her journal, and just three months before her death, Bashkirtseff records a final observation about the dissolution of the gendered self—something she repeatedly yearns for. She has been writing about what happens when human nature is observed “through the microscope,” which she then turns on herself: “I am neither painter, nor sculptor, nor musician; neither woman, nor daughter, nor friend. Everything reduces itself with me into subjects of observation, reflection, and analysis” (Journal 2:451).

Blind adopts this same scientific language in recommending Bashkirtseff’s journal to her English audience:

To read it is an education in psychology. For in this startling record a human being has chosen to lay before us ‘the very pulse of the machine,’ to show us the momentary feelings and impulses, the uninvited backstair thoughts passing like a breath across our consciousness, which we ignore for the most part when presenting our mental harvest to the public.” (Journal 1:vii)

Arthur Symons, whose literary career Blind helped launch and whose reviews and posthumous editions of her poems would do much to shape her own reputation, paid Blind one of the highest compliments any translator can receive in his 5 July 1890 Academy review of her translation. Symons notes that translating this “vibrating, abrupt, picturesque idiom, so sheerly personal, so miraculously impromptu” into another language requires a “special talent.” Because Blind has such imaginative sympathy for Bashkirtseff, her translation is a “genuine triumph . . . almost as living as the original,” and it “reads like a book originally written in English” (5).  As Symons’ words imply, Blind’s translation is in itself an act of creation: Bashkirtseff emerges in Blind’s pages as the very model of a model New Woman.

Imagining a contemporary New Woman

Blind’s last prose portrayal of a New Woman appears in her short story “At Cross Purposes,” published in Black and White in May 1892, just one month after Henry James published “The Real Thing” in the same serial (accompanied by three illustrations by Blind’s half-brother Rudolf Blind). 14   The parallels between Blind’s and James’s stories are striking: both are first-person narratives by aspiring painters; both are aesthetic parables; and both satirize Philistinism and commodity culture. In addition, both stories can be read as quasi-autobiographical wish-fulfilment fantasies. 15 Miss Lowe in Blind’s story is fiercely independent, passionate about art, and hungry for fame, which she achieves when her painting “Moonlight Among the Ruins” is chosen for exhibition in London by the Royal Academy. 16  Her ambition, she confides early in the story, is “to earn every penny I spent, and to have a little flat of my own in which I might defy man the tyrant, and be mistress of all I surveyed” (641). The painter in the less schematic and less openly autobiographical “The Real Thing” is hired to illustrate a series of novels by “the rarest of the novelists—who, long neglected by the multitudinous vulgar and dearly prized by the attentive [...] had had the happy fortune of seeing, late in life, the dawn and then the full light of a higher criticism—an estimate in which, on the part of the public, there was something really of expiation” (12). Like this novelist, both Blind and James experienced critical neglect early in their careers (though they were “prized by the attentive”) and both received sustained and serious critical attention only posthumously. 17

What is most striking about Blind’s story, however, is how militantly it resists the late-century narratives of female failure or diminution that preceded and followed it. From George Moore’s 1888 story “Mildred Lawson” to Rudyard Kipling’s The Light That Failed (1891) and Lucas Malet’s The Wages of Sin (1891), women’s artistic ambitions are variously thwarted and disappointed. 18 Maisie in Kipling’s novel, for instance, is inspired to create a canvas on the theme of melancholia after reading the poem City of Dreadful Night (by Blind’s friend James “B.V.” Thomson), but her idea is stolen by her fellow painter, Dick Heldar, after he fails at winning her heart. Dick tells Maisie that her conception is beyond her ability, and asserts that he is better able to realize her vision than she is. Even The Wages of Sin, whose painter-heroine Mary Crookenden is patterned in part on Marie Bashkirtseff, and which “follows the development of a marginalized, gifted girl/woman into a conscious, deliberate, mature artist” (Delyfer, “Rewriting Myths” 106), ends with Mary wandering the world, full of “the ache of longing for what has been and is not . . . the New Woman with nowhere to go” (Schaffer, Forgotten Female Aesthetes 230). Furthermore, in the New Woman novels published after “At Cross Purposes,” most notably Ella Hepworth Dixon’s Story of a Modern Woman and Sara Jeanette Duncan’s A Daughter of Today (both published in 1894), the heroines abandon their painterly ambitions to become workaday journalists. Surveying fin-de-siècle New Woman novels like these, Lyn Pykett notes that their feminism is “so fraught with contradictions, and apparently so preoccupied with narratives of female failure, that it sometimes appears to be antifeminist” (135). At the very time women writers had attained professional status and commercial success, Pykett notes,

their books . . . focused . . . frequently and minutely on the conflicts, frustrations, and compromised or thwarted careers and/or vocations of the professional woman writer and the aspiring woman artist. New Woman fiction is littered with would-be literary artists, painters, and musicians who break down or give in under the pressures of the various circumstances which conspire against them, and end up as lonely spinsters, or happily—or, more usually unhappily—married wives and mothers, . . . (136).

By contrast, Miss Lowe in “At Cross Purposes” imagines and ultimately inhabits a utopian space of female autonomy and freedom.

Blind creates this space by means of comedy. In British Women's Comic Fiction, 1890-1990: Not Drowning, But Laughing, Margaret Stetz notes how often fin-de-siècle conservatives condemned New Woman writers as “humorless, without wit, unable to address a reader except through harangues or angry sputters” (5), a charge levelled at Blind even by her friend and ally Richard Garnett, whose 1900 “Memoir” claims that Blind’s “defiant earnestness” was aggravated by a lack of a “lively sense of humor” (37). Stetz adduces many examples of the comic tropes employed by such New Woman writers as Alice Meynell, Ella Hepworth Dixon, and E. Nesbit, but observes that these tropes seldom contribute to affirmative feminist positions (9-47). Blind’s humor does, although it will strike many readers as a bit too facile. Initially, Blind puts her humor in the service of deflating male privilege and presumption; as when Miss Lowe meets the recently widowed Mrs. Flowers on her first day at the Pension Garin in Cimiez, describing one of their fellow travelers as a young woman who is “doing her duty in life . . . by flirting with that awfully long-nosed, putty-faced young curate, who, if you turn on the tap, will spout Browning to you by the hour, and explain him till your head begins to feel exactly as mine did when I was recovering from brain fever out in India” (641). Soon Blind deploys it to create a series of escalating misunderstandings between Miss Lowe and her would-be suitor Ned Turtle. Miss Lowe’s interactions with Ned are thoroughly instrumental: he serves as her “chaperone” (required by her aunt) when she sets out at night to explore and sketch the ruins of the Roman Amphitheatre that becomes the subject of her breakthrough painting.  This outing leads to the first of many misunderstandings between Miss Lowe and the hapless Ned. He mistakes her passionate nature worship for another kind of devotion; she later mistakes his oblique offer of marriage for an offer to buy her painting. Finally, Ned mistakes her exclamation when she receives a letter informing her that the Royal Academy will hang her painting in its next exhibition for her accepting his proposal (644).

Miss Lowe believes the beauty of the world “belonged to all who loved it,” in contrast to the would-be entrepreneurial capitalist Ned, whose failed commercial ventures in America and the British colonies have rendered him a “shoddy Don Quixote.” “He seemed to have exported grain from California, to have turned his hand to photography in New York, to have just missed striking oil out in the far West, and to have nearly come in for a wonderful find of diamonds in South Africa, besides having been connected with shipping in Liverpool, and cotton in Manchester,” Miss Lowe observes, adding that he “appeared, like another Tantalus, to have been just within reach of the most tempting fruit—a magnificent fortune in his case—which, however, instantly withdrew on his trying to seize it” (641). As moonlight bathes the pension one evening, Miss Lowe is struck by inspiration, though her fellow pension guests are oblivious to the beauty around them. “I suddenly had an inspiration. It should be the Arena by moonlight! I saw it! (642). On her excursion through this moonlit world of natural supernaturalism, Miss Lowe notices “the lusty young wheat, . . . the luxuriant broad beans,” and the “budding and half-blown roses” that “coiled themselves round the somber cypresses, or hung in long ropes over the massive garden walls” (642). While Ned uses the occasion to attempt courtship (“Had you been with me . . . when I was in Rio, and shared those scenes with me”), Miss Lowe’s erotic desires are requited by the landscape and limned in her painting. She slips into a quasi-mystical revery, but is “recalled to material things by Mr. Turtle’s voice.” He “seemed to be in the middle of quoting some verses with evident satisfaction to himself” which “sounded sweetly sentimental, and might have been committed to memory from the motto of a cracker” (642). The next time she sees Ned, he visits her in her London studio, where she receives a letter informing her that “Moonlight Among the Ruins” has been selected for exhibition by the Royal Academy. Her excited reading of the word “accepted” in the letter leads Ned to gush, “‘Oh my angel, how happy you have made me,’” and Miss Lowe to cry out “in freezing accents . . . ‘Mr. Turtle! What is the matter with you?’” She ends this meeting by reminding Ned that she is committed to creation, not procreation: “‘My dear sir,’ [she] answered with unmistakable decision, ‘please remember that I am wedded to my Art’” (644).

The New Woman and Modernism

“At Cross Purposes” is a slight work in the arc of Blind’s career, especially considering the impressive volumes of poetry that preceded and followed it—Dramas in Miniature (1891), Songs and Sonnets (1893), and Birds of Passage: Poems of the Orient and Occident (1895).  But its very transparency highlights the ways in which Blind’s proto-New Women anticipate Modernist women writers, their works, and their ideas. This story, like all of Blind’s works, assails the Angel in the House, whose “phantom” Virginia Woolf would later claim she and her generation of fellow women writers needed to murder as “part of the occupation of a woman writer” (“Professions for Women” 238). Miss Lowe’s attitude toward her art and toward marriage, her elevation of the spirit (“phantom”) of Diana to a symbolic preeminence, are part of this project, and the story itself anticipates a major theme of Woolf’s To the Lighthouse: the worship of art as reflected in the female artist’s struggle for self-expression. Like Miss Lowe, Lily Briscoe is married to her art, and also like Miss Lowe she seeks in that art a way of experiencing Paterian intensity: “One wanted, [Lily] thought, dipping her brush deliberately, to be on a level with ordinary experience, to feel simply that’s a chair, that’s a table, and yet at the same time, It’s a miracle, it’s an ecstasy. . . . . Her heart leapt at her and seized her and tortured her” (310). When Miss Lowe sits sketching in the amphitheatre, she “sees” “Diana, once the tutelary Goddess of the place, sitting phantom-like in her own light, as is still popularly believed when the moon is at the full,” and imagines “if my brush would only obey my will, and breathe something of this luminous loveliness on the canvas, I should not have lived in vain” (642). Diana, goddess of the hunt, of nature, of the sacred feminine, is for Miss Lowe and for Blind the mythic antithesis of the Angel in the House.

The two works have many other parallels. As Lily struggles to create her painting in the early part of the novel, the dispiriting words of Charles Tansley, a philosopher and pupil of Mr. Ramsay, echo in her head: “Women can’t paint, women can’t write” (78). One of the reasons Ned Turtle misconstrues Miss Lowe’s exclamations about nature and art is that he shares Charles’s assumption. Lily’s thoughts of Charles, of male-female relations generally, and of her devotion to art seem a Modernist echo of Miss Lowe’s:

She would never know him. He would never know her. Human relations were all like that, she thought, and the worst . . . were between men and women. Inevitably these were extremely insincere. Then . . . her spirits rose so high at the thought of painting tomorrow that she laughed out loud at what Mr. Tansley was saying. Let him talk all night if he liked it. (78)

And like Miss Howe, Lily views marriage as a diminishing of women, knowing “she need not marry, thank Heaven: she need not undergo that degradation. She was saved from that dilution” (159).

Lily ultimately embraces what Woolf calls for in A Room of One’s Own a vision of androgynous minds, freed from gender prejudice. Paraphrasing Coleridge, Woolf says that the androgynous mind is “resonant and porous; . . . it transmits emotion without impediment; . . . it is naturally creative, incandescent and undivided” (171). Woolf pairs Lily with another artist, the feminized Mr. Carmichael, who creates deeply felt poems about Andrew Ramsay and World War I. As Lily paints, she is preoccupied with thoughts of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay, and attempts to understand them both. She is moved by the power of Mrs. Ramsay’s love and grieves for her loss, which brings her into sympathetic union with the coldly intellectual Mr. Ramsay, patterned in part after Woolf’s father Leslie Stephen, who knew and criticized Blind for her sexual noncomformism. 19 Miss Lowe, by contrast, maintains her disdain for the men of her generation, and their masculine privilege, to the end. Yet her militant autonomy expresses one facet of the intellectual spirit Blind celebrated in her predecessors, from Mary Wollstonecraft to George Eliot.  Her fierce insistence on the need for women to have “rooms” of their own widened the field of feminist thought and writing in ways that anticipated the career of Virginia Woolf and other early Modernist women writers. Discussing the significance of Lucas Malet’s career as a novelist, Catherine Delyfer argues that Malet is "a bridge, one of the missing links, between the generation of Eliot and that of Woolf" (Art and Womanhood 151). So, too, is Mathilde Blind. 

James Diedrick is Professor of English at Agnes Scott College in Atlanta, Georgia, where he teaches courses on Victorian Literature and Culture, Global Modernism, and Film. He is the author of Mathilde Blind: Late-Victorian Culture and the Woman of Letters (2016); Understanding Martin Amis (1995; revised and expanded edition, 2004); and co-editor of Depth of Field: Stanley Kubrick, Film, and the Uses of History (2006).     


1 Rossetti MS Diary, File 3. This was just two months after she had completed her first and only novel, the romance Tarantella, published in 1885. In a 23 January 1888 letter to Richard Garnett, Blind makes another reference to writing a “new novel, having dashed off some pages at Tunbridge Wells when the idea of the plot would take possession of me, almost against my will; but now it is not so easy to get up steam again.”
2 In its 4 June 1893 report on the dinner, Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper noted that after dinner, “Miss Blind rose to propose the toast of ‘The Queen,’ and stated that the Victorian age could boast a more celebrated roll of authoresses than all other ages put together, and this development was particularly gratifying as taking place under a woman Sovereign. In conclusion, Miss Blind suggested it would be well if Miss Christina Rossetti could be appointed Poet Laureate.” Blind attended her last Women Writers’ Dinner in June 1895. She was one of sixty women present, along with Caird, Zimmern, and Clementina Black (Literary World, 14 June 1895). For more on the group, see Hughes, “A Club of Their Own.”
3 For more on the emergence of this term, see Tusan, “Inventing the New Woman” and Women Making News.
4 New Woman themes are also present in Tarantella: A Romance, but since this novel, unlike the prose works I treat here, represents these themes obliquely, I will not be discussing it in this essay. For an excellent analysis of the ways in which Tarantella contributes to New Woman discourse by subverting conventional courtship and gender relations, see Birch.
5 I do not mean to suggest Blind was the only New Woman writer whose work bridged this divide. As Ann Ardis has noted in New Women, New Novels: Feminism and Early Modernism, much late-century fiction by women built such bridges as well.
6 For more on the history of the SDF and the Woman Question, see Crick and Hunt.
7 Blind emphasizes how the novel appropriates elements of the then-popular sensation fiction genre and the “most curious feature” of the book, “its original treatment of illicit passion.” This is not surprising given Blind’s frequent treatments of this subject, ranging from “The Song of the Willi” to Tarantella: A Romance to the dramatic monologues in her verse volume Dramas in Miniature.
8 Although Watts’s review, like all Athenaeum reviews, was unsigned, his authorship was confirmed in The Life and Letters of Theodore Watts-Dunton, 2:281.
9 Blind’s most schematically Positivist poem is “The Prophecy of St. Oran” (1881).
10 Evidence of her small inheritance is found in a German bank statement showing the account balanced satisfactorily in the name of “Fraulein Mathilde Cohen” on 31 December 1862 (Add. 61930 ff. 86–87, British Library).
11 Colles founded the Authors' Syndicate in 1890, and was also a member of the Copyright Association. The first of the three surviving letters Colles wrote to Blind (29 July 1891) concern stories she submitted to Black & White: A Weekly Illustrated Record and Review; the second (3 August 1891) indicates that Colles has received a check for Blind from the journal, and also that he is handling the negotiations for Dramas in Miniature; the third (24 November 1891) mentions placing a manuscript Blind has sent him, quite likely for Songs and Sonnets (1893).
12 The anonymous author of the front-page Women’s Penny Paper interview with Blind clearly saw Blind herself as a proto-New Woman: “Miss Blind is . . . greatly interested in social questions, a warm advocate of Woman’s Suffrage, and all that can further the fuller development of her sex. Long before these subjects were widely discussed she felt that women should be the equals of men as regards the advantages of education and political responsibilities” (“Interview with Mathilde Blind”). On the emergence of the personal interview in late-Victorian journalism, see VanArsdel.
13 It is worth noting that four years after writing this essay Stead published “The Novel of the Modern Woman,” which discusses recent New Woman novels and begins with a lengthy discussion of Blind’s friend Olive Schreiner, whose 1883 novel The Story of an African Farm is the ur-text of all subsequent New Woman novels. “The Modern Woman par excellence,” Stead writes, “the founder and high priestess of the school, is Olive Schreiner. Her ‘Story of an African Farm’ has been the forerunner of all the novels of the Modern Woman” (65). In this sense Schreiner’s novels and Blind’s nonfiction mark them as key, allied figures in the pre-history of the New Woman movement.
14 For an analysis of “The Real Thing” and its publication in Black and White, see Sonstegard. Later in the same month “The Real Thing” appeared in Black and White, Rudolf Blind was summoned to Bow Street Magistrate’s Court on a charge of obscenity for exhibiting his painting “The World’s Desire” (Regan).
15 The autobiographical matrix of “At Cross Purposes” is illuminated by Blind’s 17 March 1886 letter to Garnett, written from the Villa Gasin in Cimiez. “Cimiez is situated on the site of the old Roman town office and touching this Villa are the ruins of an amphitheatre which in the large half cultivated garden . . . are fragments of columns, bits of sculptured marble and suggestive remains. Shady olive copses, tall cypresses and avenues of orange trees glowing with fruit form part of the ground, which are considered one of the lights of Nice. The view from my window is particularly enjoyable, for right in front of me, partly overshadowed by a clump of olives, is the ruined portion of a temple of Apollo. The walls are in very good preservation and a peasant’s cottage is built between them as well as stables, &c. It ought to prove an inspiring sight, ought not it? White walls rise terrace-like beyond enclosing the garden belonging to the Capucin Monastery. The view from there is said to be magnificent but no woman is allowed to set foot in it.”
16 Blind’s knowledge of Victorian painters and paintings ran deep. Throughout the 1870s and 1880s she was close friends with the painter Ford Madox Brown and his two daughters Catherine and Lucy, themselves painters (Lucy drew a chalk portrait of Blind in 1872, and her father followed suit in 1876). Blind also knew the painters James McNeil Whistler and Holman Hunt (she wrote a profile of Hunt for the Whitehall Review in 1881). In 1890, around the time she was writing “At Cross Purposes,” she published four art exhibition reviews for Art Weekly, including a (mixed) review of “Mr. Ford Madox Brown's Pictures at Dowdeswell's.” Blind felt a special affinity for Lucy, who married William Michael Rossetti in 1874, and she may have patterned Miss Lowe on her.  Like Blind, Lucy was a radical in her political and social views and a signatory for the 1889 national petition for women’s suffrage. In addition to her chalk portrait of Blind, it is likely that Lucy used Blind as the model for Margaret Roper in her remarkable 1873 painting Margaret Roper Rescuing the Head of her Father, Sir Thomas More from London Bridge (Marsh and Nun 128-29).  
17 It is likely that the paths of Blind and James crossed in London, though no record of their acquaintance exists. Blind’s friend Vernon Lee knew James well, and dedicated her first novel, the 1884 roman à clef Mrs. Brown, to him. James, however, severed all ties to Lee after she made him a target of her 1892 satirical novella “Lady Tal.” See Geraldine Murphy’s "Publishing Scoundrels.”
18 “Lucas Malet” was the pseudonym of Mary St. Leger Kingsley, the daughter of Charles Kingsley. For a discussion of Moore’s “Mildred Lawson” see Fleming.
19 Both Stephen and Blind were friends with, and attended social events at the home of the writer Lucy Clifford. In one of his letters Stephen refers dismissively to Blind as “as one of Lucy’s freethinking friends.” (Selected Letters 2:345). For more on what caused this antagonism, see Diedrick, Mathilde Blind, pp. 188-92.

Works Cited

Unpublished Works
Blind, Mathilde. ALS to G. J. Holyoake. 11 October 1882. Holyoake Collection 2772, Cooperative Union Library, Manchester, England.

---.  ALS to John Ingram. 14 September 1883.  Folder 2.  #11024. The Norman Colbeck Collection of English Literary Manuscripts.  Rare Book Literary and Historical Papers, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC.

---.  ALS to Richard Garnett. 3 March 1873.  Add. 61927, ff. 186-88. British Library, London.

---.  ALS to Richard Garnett. 17 March 1886. Add. 6192, ff. 9-12. British Library, London.

---.  ALS to Richard Garnett. 23 January 1888.  Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at
Austin, Austin, TX.

---.  ALS to William Michael Rossetti. 8 January 1886.  Folder 48.  #21. The New England
Hospital Collection. Sophia Smith Research Room, Smith College, Northampton, MA.
Colles, William Morris. ALS to Mathilde Blind. 29 July 1891. Add. 61929, ff. 66-7. British
Library, London.

---.  ALS to Mathilde Blind. 3 August, 1891. Add. 61929, ff. 68-9.  British Library, London.

---. ALS to Mathilde Blind.  24 November 1891.  Add. 61929, f. 76, British Library, London.

Fraulein Mathilde Cohen.  German bank statement.  31 December 1862.  Add. 61930, ff. 86-87,
British Library, London.

Rossetti, William Michael. Diary. Box 5.  The Angeli-Dennis Collection.  Rare Books and Special Collections, University of British Columbia Library, Vancouver, BC Canada.

Published Works
Ardis, Ann L. New Women, New Novels: Feminism and Early Modernism. Rutgers UP, 1990.

Armstrong, Isobel. Victorian Poetry: Poetry, Poetics, and Politics. Routledge, 1993.

Bashkirtseff, Marie. Journal de Marie Bashkirtseff.  Édition abrégée. Nelson, 1887.  2 vols.
---.  The Journal of Marie Bashkirtseff. Translated with an introduction by Mathilde Blind. Cassell, 1890.  2 vols.

Birch, Katy. “‘Carrying Her Coyness to a Dangerous Pitch’: Mathilde Blind and Darwinian Sexual Selection.” Women: A Cultural Review, vol. 24, no.1, 2013, pp. 71-89.

Blain, Virginia, editor. Victorian Women Poets: A New Annotated Anthology. Longman, 2001.

Blind, Mathilde.  “At Cross Purposes.” Black and White, 14 May 1892, pp. 641–45.
---.  Birds of Passage: Songs of the Orient and Occident. Chatto & Windus, 1895.   
--- .  “A Chain Criticism of the R. A.”— Link II.”  Art Weekly, 17 May 1890, 102–3.
--- .  “A Chain Criticism of the R. A.”— Link III.” Art Weekly, 24 May 1890, 111–12.
---.  Dramas in Miniature.  Chatto & Windus, 1891.
--- .  George Eliot. W. H. Allen, 1883.
---.  Madame Roland. W. H. Allen, 1886.
--- .  “Marie Bashkirtseff, the Russian Painter.” Woman’s World, vol. 1, July/August 1888, pp. 351–56; 454–57.
---.  “Mary Wollstonecraft.” New Quarterly Magazine, vol. 10, July 1878, pp. 390–412.
---.   “Mr. Ford Madox Brown’s Pictures at Dowdeswell’s.” Art Weekly, 19 April 1890, 70–71.
---.   “Mr. Holman Hunt: The Flight Into Egypt.” Portraits in Words —LVI. Whitehall Review, 21 April 21 1881, pp. 509–10.
--- .  The Poetical Works of Mathilde Blind, edited by Arthur Symons, with a Memoir by Richard Garnett, T. Fisher Unwin, 1900.
--- .  “The Portraits of 1890.” Art Weekly, 12 July 12 1890, 165–67.
---.  [Unsigned] Review of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, by Elizabeth Pennell. Athenaeum, 11 July 1885, 41–42.
--- .  A Selection from the Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley, edited with a memoir by Mathilde Blind, Bernhard Tauchnitz, 1872.
--- .  Shelley, A Lecture Delivered to The Church of Progress, in St. George’s Hall, Langham Place, London W., on Sunday Evening, January 9th, 1870. Taylor, 1870.
--- . [Unsigned] “Shelley.” Review of The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley. The Text Carefully Revised, with Notes and a Memoir, by William Michael Rossetti. Westminster Review, vol. 94, no. 1, July 1870, pp. 75–97.
--- . Songs and Sonnets. Chatto and Windus, 1893.
--- . Tarantella:  a Romance.  T. Fisher Unwin, 1885.

Crick, Martin. The History of the Social-Democratic Federation. Edinburgh UP, 1994.

Diedrick, James. “‘The Hectic Beauty of Decay”’: Positivist Decadence in Mathilde Blind’s Late Poetry.”  Victorian Literature and Culture, vol. 34, no. 2, 2006, pp. 631–48.
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