Report by Meghan Laakso
The New Freewoman was a magazine founded by Dora Marsden, published from June to December 1913. During this time the magazine attempted to explore themes of individualism while maintaining a smart balance between politics and art. With the help of a dedicated team consisting of Harriet Shaw Weaver, Rebecca West, and Ezra Pound, The New Freewoman fought for individualism via a feminist framework.
The New Freewoman was a continuation and evolution of The Freewoman, which considered the various aspects of life that impacted and oppressed women. The Freewoman cast a critical eye on gender roles, stereotypes, and the British political establishment. When this magazine came to an end, Marsden used the final issue to call on its subscribers for financial support, as well as to give comment on why the magazine was folding. “Only papers with nothing to say can trust themselves to do so” (The Freewoman, No. 47. Vol. 2). A consequent outpouring of support in the form of voluntary investors enabled Marsden’s to reboot the magazine, this time with a twist. Marsden wanted to uphold the traditions of The Freewoman, but turn it in a different direction, broadening its scope from women exclusively and considering both genders, as well as what it means to be an individual. This reboot and refocusing is embemized in the magazine’s title and subheading: The New Freewoman: an Individualist Review.
In the first issue, Marsden makes a mission statement of sorts, saying, “The New Freewoman is not for the advancement of women, but for the empowering of individuals-- men and women; it is not to set women free, but to demonstrate the fact that ‘freeing’ is the individual’s affair…. It is not to bring new thoughts to individuals but to set the thinking mechanism to the task of destroying thoughts…. In the clash of opinion we should expect to find out values” (No.1 Vol. 2). This new mission represented a departure from the political feminism that was nurtured in the previous magazine and instead looked toward the individual and their standings in society. It also explored the social construction of thought and its relation to the individual. This ideological individualism proved an uneasy footing from which to launch the new magazine given its inherent anarchical tendencies, and the magazine began with fewer than 200 subscribers. They also found themselves battling censors, and The New Freewoman went through three printers before the second issue was even published, reminiscent of the struggles faced by the original Freewoman.
Editor Rebecca West determined that along with political essays, The New Freewoman needed to have more of a literary presence than its predecessor. In a letter to Marsden, West said, “A literary side would be a bribe to the more frivolous minded in London, and I don’t see why a movement towards freedom of expression in literature should not be associated with and inspired by your gospel” (Contemporary Literature, 97). To establish this new direction, West invited Ezra Pound to be a part of the content, which in turn caused friction within the editorship.
Though Marsden and Pound’s relationship has often been thought of as a rivalry, it would be better characterized as a partnership. Marsden worked to create an individualistic magazine, and Pound’s influence only accentuated this mission through a literary, aesthetic lens. Marsden and Pound wrote to each other and bounced ideas around, eventually finding a balance between politics and the arts, represented in a piece written by Pound called “The Serious Artist” which was published in the final issues of The New Freewoman. This piece worked to “come to terms with some fundamental aesthetic and critical issues (Contemporary Literature, 103).” “The Serious Artist” considered both Marsden and Pound’s stances and combined them into a single critical perspective. This unification of perspectives was eventually cemented with The New Freewoman’s eventual transformation into The Egoist, which would be headed up by Pound, and would publish many of the most notable modernist writers.
Clarke, Bruce. “Dora Marsden and Ezra Pound: ‘The New Freewoman’ and ‘The Serious Artist.’” Contemporary Literature, vol. 33, no. 1, 1992, pp. 91–112, DOI: 10.2307/1208375.
Modernist Journals Project, www.modjourn.org/render.php?id=1303309695953252&view=mjp_object.