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Women and the Railway, 1850-1915$
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Anna Despotopoulou

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780748676941

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748676941.001.0001

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Railway Speed

Railway Speed

(p.59) Chapter 2 Railway Speed
Women and the Railway, 1850-1915

Anna Despotopoulou

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter considers the metaphor of ‘fastness’ that was attributed to young women with unconventional behaviour, drawing connections between ‘fast’ manners fostered by the freer interaction on the train, literal mobility, and transgression. I examine railway short stories which expose young flirts or even more dangerous femmes fatales, whose provocative behaviour threatened the stability of domestic ideology by exposing the incompatibility between men’s and women’s intentions, manners, and morals. Unlike the narratives that show that uncontrollable ‘fastness’ in girls would inevitably lead them to crash, in Rhoda Broughton’s Not Wisely but too Well, Dora Russell’s Footprints in the Snow, and Oliphant’s ‘A Story of a Wedding Tour’, the train (and the idea of fast transit) becomes the conceptual means of exploring the heroines’ potential for the bold transgression of social codes. The chapter also examines the presence of ‘fast’ women in Henry James’s London Metropolitan Railway settings in ‘A London Life’ and The Wings of the Dove where the heroines negotiate sexual desire and social norms. It is argued that the underground scenes mark moments of undoing and rupture, moments during which codes of morality and manners fall apart or clash and are subverted.

Keywords:   fast girls, women’s manners, speed, transgression, sexual desire, marriage, Rhoda Broughton, Dora Russell, Margaret Oliphant, Henry James

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