Gendering the landscape: women's emerging role into the public sphere

By the late nineteenth century in Great Britain, the feminist movement began gaining traction by pushing for women’s suffrage. As women developed their political role in society, gender roles were also reevaluated. Although still subordinate they were tied to England’s landscape and were seen as the arbiters of England’s heritage. With the end of coverture in 1885, married women no longer ceded their property to their husbands giving them greater access to financial and legal independence. This work expands on the historical narrative of women’s entrance into political and public spaces, a process that began with men’s promotion of separate spheres. Using Jurgen Habermas’ framework for the public sphere, this historical work revises the role that class had in nineteenth century discourse, by analyzing the role gender played culturally and socially in Great Britain. Out of a growing concern for changes to English masculinity, men fostered a debate about women’s roles. Women used the stereotypes placed on them to enter into the public sphere. This strategy began with literary, artistic, and social reform movements seeking to modify ideas of gender, a process explored in this work through an analysis of John Ruskin, Octavia Hill, and E. M. Forster. A strong advocate of separate spheres for men and women, Ruskin wrote and gave lectures that influenced the English population about prescribed ideals for how men and women should relate to one another. As a social critic he influenced Octavia Hill. Hill was a social reformer who under the tutelage of Ruskin, expanded her own reform schemes striving to improve the lives of lower class Londoners through art and access to gardens. The novels of E. M. Forster satirized the growing concern over the role that women now had in society. Exacerbated by legal changes, anxiety over modernity, women’s changing expectations within society led to literary explorations of the role that women played in England. This thesis argues that women maneuvered through the limitations placed on them by constructing and changing their position in the public sphere through a reevaluation of their relationship to the English landscape.