No country: anarchy and motherhood in the modernist novel
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Women's fight for the franchise in both America and England in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was accompanied by scrutiny of women's relationship to the State by those with varying perspectives on the suffrage battle. In the industrial, post-agricultural age, motherhood defined a woman's place in western society, as well as her rights under and service to the State; if the normative role of the male citizen was the soldier, the normative role for women was the mother. Yet for all of the ways an embrace of maternalism limited women's access to the public realm, it also laid the groundwork for the women's movement, and motherhood was often seen as a route to citizenship by those on both sides of the suffrage battle. As women began to re-imagine themselves as enfranchised citizens, many social theorists, politicians, and novelists continued to debate the rights and roles of women across the body of the mother; thinkers as varied as Theodore Roosevelt, H. G. Wells, and Emma Goldman all wrote tracts about motherhood and the future of the nation. Rather than entering the old debates on the value or liability of maternalism for feminism, my dissertation will argue that the modernist period introduced a new and still-overlooked figure: the anarchic mother. In their essays and novels, Goldman, Rebecca West, John Galsworthy, and Virginia Woolf turned away from the emblem of the Republican Mother and toward a radical new figure. Rather than sacrificing her individual needs to the Republic, the anarchic mother's individual pursuit of liberty challenged the authority of the State and its cultural institutions. An important group of modernist novels and essays employs the figure of the mother to represent not tradition and unity but rebellion, separatism, abstention, or statelessness. This undertheorized figure in modernist and feminist thought clarifies Virginia Woolf's call, in Three Guineas, for allegiance to no country. If Woolf and many other artists were ambivalent as they linked motherhood and anarchy, contemporary feminists inherited both the possibilities and contradictions of the anarchic mother as they reexamine women's relationship to citizenship in the 21st century.