Here is a bold new vision of Victorianculture: a study of myths of womanhoodthat shatters the usual generalizationsabout the squeezed, crushed, and ego-less Victorian woman.
Through copious examples drawn fromliterature, art, and biography, Auerbachreconstructs three central paradigms:the angel/demon, the old maid, and thefallen woman. She shows how these animate a pervasive Victorian vision of amobile female outcast with divine anddemonic powers. Fear of such disruptive, self-creating figures, Auerbach argues, produces the approved ideal of thedutiful, family-bound woman. The awethey inspire associates them with characters in literature, the only vehicles ofimmortality in whom most Victorianscould unreservedly believe.
Auerbach looks at a wonderful variety ofsources: Svengali, Dracula, and Freud;poets and major and minor novelistsCarlyle, John Stuart Mill, and Ruskin;lives of women, great and unknown;Anglican sisterhoods and Magdalenhomes; bardolatry and the theater; Pre- Raphaelite paintings and contemporarycartoons and book illustrations. Reinterpreting a medley of fantasies, she demonstratesthat female powers inspired a vivid mythcentral to the spirit of the age.