Gertrude: The Lonely New Woman (with no bicycle?)

Gertrude’s fear of loneliness is apparent throughout The Romance of a Shop. At the end of the tenth chapter, Gertrude “wept very bitterly” out of fear that she would be alone once all her sisters were married off (Levy, 127). Her fear is actualized towards the end of the novel when she feels “very lonely” and is “trying to accustom herself in thought to the long years of solitude, of dreariness, which she saw stretching out before her,” after Lucy married Frank (192). Gertrude proceeds to describe her role as “a strong-minded woman” in the rest of the passage, presenting the downsides of being a “New Woman” (192).

For Gertrude, “the world, even when represented by her best friends, had labelled her a strong-minded woman” (192). “Strong-minded” suggests a sense of independence, which is characteristic of the “New Woman.” In this regard, Gertrude seems to be representing the “New Woman” — she is unmarried (therefore independent of a man) and works a job. Levy doesn’t use passive voice here – a choice that suggests a broader social commentary; rather, Levy states that it is the world that gave Gertrude this label of an independent, “New Woman”-like figure. In that regard, Gertrude did not fully choose the position that she is in – society and her circumstances (e.g., death of her father and subsequent lack of inheritance) did.

The notion that society placed Gertrude in the role of the “New Woman” is emphasized when the narrator says that “by universal consent she had been cast for the part” (192). The metaphor of being “cast for the part” immediately removes Gertrude from any position of power to choose the life she wants to lead (192). It is ironic that the idea of the “New Woman” is contrasted with the fact that women, like Gertrude, were perhaps being forced into this new role. That is, it seems counterintuitive for the “New Woman” to be equated with women not having autonomy as to whether they wanted to lead that life.

As Gertrude recognizes her loneliness as an unmarried, working woman, Levy describes her as being “cast for the part, and perforce must go through with it” (192). The use of the word “perforce,” meaning “must” or “inevitably,” signals that Gertrude may feel stuck in the progressive role of a “New Woman,” just as some women feel stuck in the traditional role of having to get married. In this sense, Levy’s descriptions of Gertrude’s struggles suggests that the “New Woman” is just another role that women become boxed into.

2 thoughts on “Gertrude: The Lonely New Woman (with no bicycle?)”

  1. This analysis gives me Matilda and Romeo and Juliet vibes! I like what you’ve done in crafting an argument that Gertrude is a victim of her life situation and doesn’t have much autonomy. I wonder if there could’ve been a way for her to assert more control over her life, or if starting the photography business was the closest she ever got to controlling her own fate. I also do think that Gertrude was modeled after Amy herself, especially because she didn’t feel that she had the freedom to love who she wanted or be who she wanted to be.

  2. I like this post because it exposes the challenges of being a New Woman. The New Woman is described as a woman having their own independence in a male-dominated society, rejecting the rules placed upon an individual just because they are a woman. With the example of Getrude, she has achieved this place of independence but she is still lonely. I think regardless of pushing back against the traditionalism in society, people still want to find love and have a family. I talked about this in one of my other blog posts, but I wonder how practical it is to fully embody the ideals of the New Woman.

Comments are closed.