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Vol. XI (Summer 2022)


Dear Readers,
Three years have passed, three long years curtailed and restricted by Covid-19, but once again we find ourselves expressing excitement in launching our latest issue and admiration for our small crew’s dedication to The Latchkey that makes that all possible.  While the pandemic’s distressing psychological, economic, professional and personal effects may linger in residual fashion, we here at The Latchkey emerge from the global isolation still committed to our periodical’s fundamental principle:  to promote current research in New Woman studies and to expand existing scholarship on Victorian and fin-de-siecle culture. 

It is with delight and pride, then, that we announce Volume XI of The Latchkey with contributions from six prominent scholars.  Four short essays comprise a thoughtful set of vignettes, a characterization that led to some fruitfully investigative musing about a vignette’s actual meaning and impression. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) traces vignette’s etymology with arresting and thought-provoking examples.  Beginning with a late 18th-century example from Horace Walpole to illustrate “vignette” as an ornamental embellishment around a page, the OED shows a similar usage in Eliot’s Felix Holt (1866) and Henry James’s Italian Hours (1909).  “Vignette” also denotes small photographic portraits that show only the sitter’s head and shoulders.  The print’s shadowed and darkly softened edges enhanced the portrait, ennobling the sitter’s features and conferring distinction and dignity.  Around 1880, “vignette” became applied to a written piece describing a place or a person.  The OED cites the writer and suffragist Edith Simcox who confided to her diary on March 28 her “thought of writing a little book of ‘Vignettes’.” 

What, then, distinguishes a literary and biographical vignette from the biographical sketch, especially given their many similarities?  Like a vignette, the sketch renders information about an individual’s upbringing, hobbies, education, accomplishments, and challenges.  Similarly, the sketch may clarify events, explain motivation, illuminate character and choices.  The sketch also weaves noteworthy details into its representation of a life, producing distinct and separate portraits as in Helen Cecilia Black’s 1893 Notable Women Authors: Biographical Sketches or her 1896 Pen, Pencil, Baton and Mask: Biographical Sketches or the multi-authored 1897 Women Novelists of Queen Victoria’s Reign, a collection of biographical appreciations.

Sketches often remain independent solo pieces in their brevity and completeness whereas a vignette will always be a smaller part of a larger account.  That distinction differentiates the vignette from the sketch.  Histories depend on vignettes to expand, to animate, to create more comprehensive and thorough stories.  Vignettes are woven into that larger form.  The four short essays in what we fondly refer to as our Vignettes Issue contribute substance and color to the larger and always ongoing narrative about Victorian and Edwardian women writers, as do the Featured New Woman essay and book review.  They demonstrate graceful thought from scholars whose work in the field shows the continuing importance of studies in women’s biography and New Woman criticism.

The Latchkey’s audience might be surprised to find Christina Georgina Rosetti’s name among those we regard as New Women.  However, Kimberly Jo Stern persuasively justifies including this remarkable poet and sister to those influential Pre-Raphaelite brothers, William and Dante Gabriel, in, as she states, the “the long political and cultural history of the New Woman.”  Stern moves fluidly through information that recalls the critical reception Rosetti’s poetry, devotional verse, fiction received in her own time and that brought her into the British literary canon.  Most compelling are the questions Stern raises about Rosetti’s attitudes toward contemporary issues such as the anti-vivisection movement, women’s suffrage, and women’s education, reminding us that the connotative definitions for “New Woman” and the “New Woman’s” attitudes remain stimulatingly nuanced. 

Carolyn W. de la L. Oulton brings to life Mary Cholmondeley’s animated views about the hurdles women writers confronted: frustrations with publishers and critics; ongoing struggles with justifying women’s creative abilities; the always mind-numbing tedium in familial expectations and domestic obligations.  Vivid quotations from diaries and letters invigorate Oulton’s well-honed survey of Cholmondeley’s career and her friendships with those like Percy Lubbock, Ann Ritchie Thackeray, and Rhoda Broughton.  Cholmondeley regarded the “New Woman” – the figure and the concept – with ambivalence, expressing doubts about some of the period’s proto-feminist goals even while she supported others.  In supplying rich details about this “insightful observer[’s]” life and fiction, Oulton, once again, proves herself an ardent admirer and expert on this fascinating woman writer.  

Melissa Edmundson describes the often neglected Violet Hunt’s navigation between the Victorian period’s domestic ideology and expectations for women and her upbringing in a family that prized artistic, literary, and intellectual freedoms.  The tensions, Edmundson claims, run throughout Hunt’s life, one in which she achieved fame (even notoriety) as an influential and dazzling London social hostess and encountered reproaches about and disparagement of her often unconventional lifestyle.  Raised in a household closely aligned with the Pre-Raphaelite circle, Hunt confidently embraced the artistic and literary life even while she combatted her own internalized notions about women’s duties and strengths.  Edmundson provides vivid details from Hunt’s novels, letters, her memoir, and contemporary reviews to demonstrate how this woman writer explored those contradictions and oppositions in her fiction and in her personal observations about society.  Readers familiar with Edmundson’s centrality in the scholarship of women’s ghost and occult fiction will find the essay’s focus on Hunt’s short spooky tales particularly engaging. Ultimately, the essay demonstrates the valuable contributions women’s biographical criticism makes in bringing authors like Hunt – prolific and prominent in their own time – back into view. 

Netta Syrett may be well established and her novels, fairy tale collections, and autobiography more available and scrutinized than Violet Hunt's.  Nonetheless, Melissa Purdue in her astute assessment of Syrett’s life, work, and critical reception explains the continuing difficulty Syrett’s style poses for anyone determined to locate her within specific categories.  Not a Modernist in her realist loyalties yet radical in inventing characters who break conventional literary social and sexual types, Syrett and her sisters (both artists and illustrators) lived independently in their own apartment and associated with a glittering fin-de-siecle aesthetic circle.  Purdue evokes the sisters’ stimulating milieu that included the Beardsleys, Ella d’Arcy, Somerset Maugham, and, especially, Henry Harland who founded The Yellow Book, in which Syrett’s earliest writing appeared.  Purdue lists Syrett’s novels, short story collections, her absorbing and touching 1939 autobiography The Sheltering Tree (edited by Carolyn W. de la L. Oulton for Pickering & Chatto’s New Woman Fiction, 1881-1899 series in 2010 and reviewed in The Latchkey’s Summer 2011 issue) and even a play to shape a sure testimony to this woman author’s commitment to her art and her position in fin-de-siecle and Edwardian literary culture. 

Michael Seeney adds to our always growing list of Featured New Women entries with his piece on Henrietta Eliza Stannard (1865-1911).  Writing under the name “John Strange Winter,” Stannard published short stories and novels and, with her husband, a weekly newspaper that regularly highlighted contemporary issues particularly significant for women. Seeney also notes Stannard’s pivotal place in women’s literary clubs and institutions. These details make critical neglect of this prolific and interesting figure that much more surprising.

Seeney’s expertise on fin-de-siècle culture, especially Oscar Wilde and those in his circle is further showcased in his edited collection, Wilde’s Wittiest Woman: Ada Leverson’s Uncollected Writings.  In her review of the book, Margaret Stetz applauds Seeney for making available many previously unpublished early works by the woman Wilde referred to fondly as “Sphinx.”  Like Syrett, Leverson counted among her intimates those in the aesthetic and decadent circles; her wit and satiric jesting about The Yellow Book and Savoy magazine artists and writers helped promote rather than denounce their works.  Stetz praises Seeney for bringing together these “fugitive pieces” as she calls them, reminding us that the New Woman’s command and authority can find their voice in levity.

While Rossetti died shortly before the close of the century, Stannard, Cholmondeley, Leverson, Hunt, and Syrett all lived well into the 20th-century, pushing, and reconfiguring the New Woman’s temporal boundaries in a way perhaps analogous to how those we lodge under the category nudged and jostled and challenged the label and its implications.  With their four essays, Stern, Oulton, Edmundson, and Purdue, The Latchkey’s four vignettists, refresh and rejuvenate their individual subjects, just as Seeney and Stetz shade the existing scholarly borders within which Stannard and Leverson are framed.  By outlining the personal, cultural, and professional difficulties that hindered women’s individual professional ambitions, this issue’s contents suggest the consequential effects critical reception over time evolves, transfers, or counteracts.  Ultimately in granting each writer renewed appreciation, our contributors to the larger and ever evolving story about Victorian and Edwardian women writers, about the New Woman writer, demonstrate the compelling nature in the scholarship of women’s biography and women’s literary achievements.

Since The Latchkey’s inception in the Spring of 2009, the journal has seen several fluctuations and modifications in its editorial staffing.  As co-editor, Sharon Bickle has cultivated a supportive collaborative atmosphere.  Her generous suggestions, perceptive manuscript assessments, and excellent copyediting have graced The Latchkey with a reliably fine quality in its publications.  With this issue, Sharon assumes a new role as Consulting Editor, one which retains her connection with The Latchkey in sustaining the journal’s mission and guiding its future publications. We look forward to this new phase in The Latchkey and our ongoing efforts publishing significant and exciting contributions to New Woman studies.

With this change in the editorial team, Joellen Masters becomes General Editor, a role she has filled admirably in practice over the last five years. It is not an easy time for Open Access journals but in Joellen’s experienced hands, and with the support of the community of scholars dedicated to New Woman writing, we believe there is space for The Latchkey to continue to provide new and emerging scholarship by established and emerging critics.

And as always, we extend our heartiest thanks and resounding applause to Steven Halliwell whose patience and unwavering support throughout The Latchkey’s years (most particularly through the last three) have kept us confident and true in our allegiance to the journal.

The Latchkey solicits submissions throughout the year.  Interested contributors can find the submission parameters and expectations for essays, biographical sketches, commentary, and book reviews in “The Latchkey Submission and Style Guidelines” link which stipulates the 9th edition style of the Modern Language Association (MLA) and U.S./American spellings and punctuation.  We are also happy to post conference, call for papers, and publications of interest announcements.  Contact us at with any questions and interest in sending an item for any of the journal’s sections.

With best wishes,
Joellen Masters
General Editor
College of General Studies, Boston University

Sharon Bickle
Consulting Editor
University of Southern Queensland