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The New Woman in the Theatre






School of Theatre, Performance and Cultural Policy Studies

TH216 - Aspects of Theatre and Performance: The ‘New Woman’ in the Theatre

Tutor: Dr Gerry Cousin



The term ‘New Woman’ was first used in the 1890s. Better educated than their fellow women, usually young and middle-class, New Women were the result of changing social attitudes that stemmed largely from a gradual improvement in women’s legal status and educational and employment prospects. The module explores representations of the New Woman by female and male writers, primarily between the early 1890s and the First World War. The texts examine problems posed by existing attitudes to gender, marriage and alternative careers for women, and the struggle for female suffrage. The main focus is on British plays of the period, plus Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, which is an important background text. In addition to plays, a key short story, The Yellow Wallpaper, will be studied. The novel The Odd Women by George Gissing, is an important background text. It would be valuable to read it before the start of the Spring term.


The module will investigate:

  • how the New Woman was depicted in a range of plays (and, to a lesser degree, novels and short stories) by male and female writers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries
  • the relevant social and cultural contexts out of which the New Woman developed

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students should be able to:

  • engage in research-based investigation of appropriate primary and secondary material
  • communicate what they have learned both orally and in writing
  • analyse representations of the New Woman in a range of plays and some novels/short stories
  • demonstrate an understanding of the relevant social/cultural background that informed the development, and reception, of the New Woman

Students will achieve these learning outcomes through:

  • concentrated reading of primary and secondary material, plus viewing of videos to provide a contextual background
  • seminar discussion, essay work and written examination