Our Lady of Victorian Feminism is about three nineteenth-century women, Protestants by background and feminists by conviction, who are curiously and crucially linked by their extensive use of the Madonna in arguments designed to empower women.
In the field of Victorian studies, few scholars have looked beyond the customary identification of the Christian Madonna with the Victorian feminine ideal—the domestic Madonna or the Angel in the House. Kimberly VanEsveld Adams shows, however, that these three Victorian writers made extensive use of the Madonna in feminist arguments. They were able to see this figure in new ways, freely appropriating the images of independent, powerful, and wise Virgin Mothers.
In addition to contributions in the fields of literary criticism, art history, and religious studies, Our Lady of Victorian Feminism places a needed emphasis on the connections between the intellectuals and the activists of the nineteenth-century women's movement. It also draws attention to an often neglected strain of feminist thought, essentialist feminism, which proclaimed sexual equality as well as difference, enabling the three writers to make one of their most radical arguments, that women and men are made in the image of the Virgin Mother and the Son, the two faces of the divine.
Kimberly VanEsveld Adams is a former Mellon Fellow and has had articles in Women's Studies and Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. She teaches at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania.
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