Seeking a 'steadfast aim'
: a cultural historical biography of Bessie Rayner Belloc (1829-1925)

  • Deborah Ann Parker Kinch

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

Abstract

This thesis presents an account of the life of Bessie Rayner Parkes Belloc (1829-1925), a writer and leading feminist activist. As founding editor of the feminist English Woman’s Journal (1858-1864) and a central figure in the Langham Place group of women’s rights campaigners, Bessie’s name was synonymous in the mid-nineteenth century with the women’s rights cause. The significance of her efforts to the establishment of the British women’s rights movement has been acknowledged in feminist historiography; however, her move away from front-line campaigning after 1866 has been previously interpreted as her rejection of this movement. Her conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1864 and her marriage in 1867, after which she largely devoted herself to domestic responsibilities, have been assumed to explain this turning point in her life, as reflecting a replacement of her youthful feminism with an increasingly conservative stance. Through examination of Bessie’s private papers and published writings, this interpretation of her life is challenged, by demonstrating how her biography from childhood to old age can be considered an example of a feminist life. This research draws upon approaches from feminist biography, going beyond celebrating Bessie as an exceptional pioneer to explore the origins and development of her feminist consciousness and its significance in her life. Working across the disciplines of literature and history, the thesis contextualises Bessie’s life and writings within her social, political and cultural worlds. The development of her writing career, previously regarded as of secondary importance to her feminist activism, is here placed at the centre of her biography. The core focus of this thesis is how literature, religious faith and feminist ideals of friendship and cooperation together shaped Bessie’s outlook, informing her ‘steadfast aim’ to do practical good in the world, which guided her actions throughout her long, eventful, feminist life.
Date of AwardJun 2021
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorMark Frost (Supervisor) & Paraic Finnerty (Supervisor)

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