By Jeannette King (auth.)
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Extra info for Discourses of Ageing in Fiction and Feminism: The Invisible Woman
473). In a later review, Spinsters, Widows and Mothers 37 Caird endorses her character’s view: ‘Every woman under the conditions of our social order is willy-nilly the business rival of every other woman. 36 However problematic the representation of the older woman and her relationship with the young in New Woman fiction, that fiction can nevertheless be credited with introducing an awareness of ageing into forms where it had rarely been evident as a problem. Although the Romance plot still dominated, romance nevertheless often failed or was rejected, so that such fiction – unlike many of its predecessors – extended its protagonist’s gaze into the future, requiring her to consider the implications of her choices for later life.
Usually middle class, and better educated than their mothers, many rejected not just marriage, but relationships with men in general. As Ann Heilmann points out, for feminists of this period, celibacy was a political act, the secular equivalent of those sisterhoods which Craik saw as positive models for single women,26 an echo of Gaskell’s all-female community. Remaining single by choice, such women did not see themselves as ‘surplus’ or ‘redundant’, giving a new inflection to the old debates about female ageing.
Through this means, therefore, Gaskell evades the totalising effect of the community’s ageing sterility. Having been instrumental to Martha’s marriage, Matty is in a sense instrumental to the birth of her child, opening up Cranford to a new generation. With Matty acting as surrogate mother, both generational and class divides are crossed. Conforming to the advice given to Old Maids to take on familial roles by proxy, Matty nevertheless transgresses the boundaries between the genteel and the servant worlds.