‘This woman who predominated in all things’ Alice Barber Stephens’s drawings of Dorothea in George Eliot’s Middlemarch, 1899
Manchester University Press
Alice Barber Stephens (1858–1932) was among the first to recognize Dorothea Brooke, the heroine of George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1872), as a modern woman, capable of asserting her own vision. Of the seventeen illustrations that Stephens contributed to the 1899 edition of Middlemarch, nearly half focus attention on key moments that chart Dorothea’s growing authority, from sisterhood through a difficult marriage to widowhood. These illustrations won Stephens a gold medal at the 1899 exhibition of Women’s Work at Earl’s Court, London, but the eight Dorothea drawings particularly highlight woman’s expanding sphere of experience. Importantly, the Middlemarch illustrations follow a very popular series on the ‘American Woman’ that Stephens had just completed for The Ladies Home Journal in 1897, a series in which she represented the growing freedom of the ‘New Woman’ to seek meaningful employment. This chapter provides close analysis of the Dorothea illustrations as they follow from the ‘American Woman’ series, arguing that Stephens’s drawings describe and advocate a progressive development of female agency. As such, Stephens offers one of the earliest feminist interpretations of Middlemarch.
Marck Cantwell, N. (2023). “‘This Woman Who Predominated in All Things’: Alice Barber Stephens’s Drawings of Dorothea in George Eliot’s Middlemarch, 1899.” In Nineteenth Century Women Illustrators and Cartoonists, ed. by J. Devereux. Manchester University Press, 131–50.