Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Todd M. Kuchta

Second Advisor

Dr. Jil C. Larson

Third Advisor

Dr. Jon R. Adams

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Kathleen Williams Renk


New woman, feminism, World War I, modern literature, pacifism, women


In “Battling the Separate Spheres,” I argue that New Woman writers’ interventions into gender discourse at the end of the nineteenth century shaped the feminist pacifist protests of World War I. This analysis illustrates that the discourses of gender and war are intertwined: the rise of the women’s movement in the nineteenth century was positioned as a sex war, and the gender ideology of the separate spheres helped to justify World War I. I examine two New Woman interventions into the separate spheres debates—the “sex war” of the fin de siècle. Olive Schreiner propels women into the public sphere, encouraging them to extend a maternal altruism to meet the needs of the world, while George Egerton reconfigures the private sphere as a space of resistance to the corruption of patriarchy, demonstrating how the public invades the private sphere. Schreiner and Egerton’s feminist interventions into the separate spheres can be used to interpret women writers protesting the gender discourse of World War I. I examine two neglected war writers—poet Margaret Sackville and public intellectual Vernon Lee—and two prominent postwar writers—Vera Brittain and Virginia Woolf. Sackville extends Schreiner’s maternal altruism by making maternal grief a platform of pacifist protest, while Lee adopts Egerton’s radical outsider position in order to critique the gender politics of war experience. In the postwar period, Brittain utilizes Schreiner’s politics of reform to redefine patriotism through feminism and pacifism in the public sphere, whereas Woolf synthesizes Schreiner’s call for public reform with Egerton’s radical turn toward privacy to create a feminist pacifist community of outsiders. Sackville, Lee, Brittain, and Woolf thus extend the New Woman critiques of the separate spheres to protest war and to situate feminism as necessarily pacifist. This analysis demonstrates that the language and imagery of the sex war and the Great War are inextricably linked. While modernism and World War I are positioned in opposition to the preceding period of the Victorians, this project examines a late Victorian inheritance present in the war writers of World War I.


5th Advisor: Dr. Christopher C. Nagle

Access Setting

Dissertation-Campus Only

Restricted to Campus until