'I have expiated my sins to you at last': Motherhood in Victoria Cross’s Colonial Fiction

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Book Chapter

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New Woman writers’ explorations of motherhood came at the end of the nineteenth century when pressures on women to prioritize motherhood were heightened in the face of growing feminist activism and concerns about the future of the nation. Grant Allen, for one, argued the importance of motherhood in women’s lives in his 1889 article ‘Plain Words on the Woman Question,’ claiming that ‘A woman ought to be ashamed to say she has no desire to become a wife and mother’ (452). His primary concern was clearly with the health of the nation: ‘In Britain, at the present day … an average of about six children per marriage (not per head of female inhabitants) is necessary in order to keep the population just stationary’ (Allen 450). This stance was reinforced by others like Katrina Trask1 in her 1895 article ‘Motherhood and Citizenship: Woman’s Wisest Policy.’ Like Allen, Trask argued that a woman’s duty was ‘not the mere bearing of children in an accidental, incidental way, but the mission of the perpetuation of the race; and, until she understands and studies to fulfill her trust to the utmost, she has failed in her obligation and privilege’ (610). According to Trask, women should keep themselves physically, mentally, and spiritually fit because the future of the race would depend on them. In the face of such rhetoric, a rejection of motherhood was not simply a personal choice, but an act against the nation itself.



Publication Title

Writing Women of the Fin de Siecle: Authors of Change