Respecting Man and the Masculine Demands of the New Woman

Gertrude is the driving force behind the Lorimer sisters’ transition from recently orphaned and newly poor to working-class fortune seekers. In her push for their independence, she embodies many of the qualities of the “New Woman”. Gertrude is also deeply intuitive, and cares with her entire being for each of her sisters’ wellbeing, wanting what was best for them within each of their individual means, according to society’s subjective lens. Beyond this, keeping in mind Gertrude’s own relatively young age, she was also reentering into a world from a new location, social class, and motivations. Beyond her protectiveness towards her sisters, she was facing a new understanding of self as someone almost “less-than”, compared to her previous standing and company. This self-consciousness is the beginning of her antipathy towards Sidney Darrell, but not the entirety of it – nor even the true root cause of its further development.

From the first, Gertrude dislikes Darrell, saying to her sisters, “how can one be expected to think well of a person who makes one feel like a strong-minded clown?” (117). Darrell made Gertrude feel lesser for her position and her perceived poverty, and introduced a sense of shame for doing what she had stubbornly made her livelihood. But this is not the only factor in her dislike – from the start, she was suspicious of his character. “He is this sort of man; —if a woman were talking to him of—of the motions of the heavenly bodies, he would be thinking all the time of the shape of her ankles” (110).

This suspicion and dislike are not one-sided; indeed, Darrell describes her to Lord Watergate as the “dragon-sister” when discussing his desire to for Phyllis to sit for a portrait (131). Though not the culmination of their interactions, when Gertrude and Darrell meet at the party when the subject of Phyllis being his muse is brought up, Levy writes: “It was an old, old story the fierce yet silent opposition between these two people; an inevitable antipathy; a strife of type and type, of class and class, rather than of individuals: the strife of the woman who demands respect, with the man who refuses to grant it” (131). It is in this moment that the conflict between them is enlarged and pointed at specifically for the reader; it is in this moment of tense confrontation that their antipathy is made greater than two individuals, and becomes the contradiction between the New Woman and the old guard.

Gertrude, who is described upon first meeting as not beautiful; who is not the oldest or youngest or truly the middle child, but instead the writer and the worker. The one attribute continually accredited to her is “clever”. It is important to note that Gertrude occasionally has unpredictable bouts of propriety, perhaps alluding to the conflict among women at the time on a more internal level than the conflict between each of the sisters and their differing interpretation of the proper social expression of womanhood.

In Gertrude’s silent battle with Sidney Darrell, there is an “inevitable antipathy” – one of “type and type” and “class and class”, where Levy takes us beyond the individual and into broad categorization. Where class is most typically attributed towards the differentiation between wealth and means of access, it can also be related to a sense of propriety – not just according to the social norms of the times, but according to a sense of decency and the elegance (or lack of) associated with it (i.e. “classy”). Type can be a term which differentiates between groups of people: the types of people where one conforms to or embodies one thing, and someone else another. Type could also allude to gender; one type of person can be masculine, and the other feminine.

This “inevitable antipathy”, beyond the individual, as Levy says, is instead between the social standard of interactions between man and woman: “the strife of the woman who demands respect, with the man who refuses to grant it”. This phrasing, which speaks to me as one of the most impactful lines I encountered in The Romance of a Shop, alludes to Levy’s own opinions not just on the controversy surrounding the conception of the New Woman, but on the deeper, social way of interpreting the deference expected of a woman interacting with a man, especially as a new type and class of woman is emerging onto the social scene, appropriating masculine roles in society and the respect that comes with it.

2 thoughts on “Respecting Man and the Masculine Demands of the New Woman”

  1. I think this is a really good analysis. The line you cited stood out to me too when I was reading! To focus on just a small bit of your response, I think the fact that the Lorimer sisters became artists is interesting. At a time when art was so valued, it seems like artists, no matter what their class was, were able to hang out with the upper class as sort of pets. So while the Lorimer’s social status monetarily dropped, they still seemed to hang out with the same group of people (Connie’s class, which might be why Levy stresses the disrepair of Gertrude’s clothes and shoes when she’s in the presence of the rich?). In Dorian Gray too, it seems like artists could have been social outcasts if they hadn’t been patronized by the wealthy.

  2. Great points! Would you say that Gertrude is ahead of her time or possibly wise for her age? I see her as the mother figure among the girls. I believe it is because of the lack of parental figures that Gertrude is able to embody the New Woman. I completely agree with your point that these sisters are different physically and differ in their views of the proper social expression of womanhood because of their age differences. In that same paragraph you also address that gertrude is the “clever” one seen as the worker and writer. It is important to point out that these are usually traits associated with men at the time, and for these traits to be associated with Gertrude breaks the mold and furthers her as a New Woman. Gertrude is an interesting dichotomy of a motherly figure who also possesses logical, manly qualities.

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