The New Women and the Old Men is a group biography of the late Victorian intellectuals and social reformers known as the ‘New Thinkers’. This brilliant group, including among others Havelock Ellis, Eleanor Marx, Olive Schreiner, H.G.Wells, Bernard Shaw, Rebecca West, Beatrice and Sidney Webb, aimed to transform the whole framework within which life was lived, both politically and personally. For the two could not be separated: a new approach to morality, and in particular the relations between the sexes, were essential to the new politics. This suited the men excellently: gleefully unfettered by outdated notions of social acceptability, they did as they wished, then devised a philosophy that would present their actions in an appropriate theoretical light.
The women, however, fared less well. Though brilliant, forceful and ambitious, the terms of their lives were often dictated, in the old-fashioned way, by lovers or husbands. In the name of modernity they sacrificed security, children, the pleasures of sex, conjugal companionship – even, in the extreme case of Eleanor Marx, life itself. How could this happen, among people whose lives were dedicated to the elimination of hypocrisy?
A fusion of biography, social history and analysis more absorbing than fiction, more gripping than Pirelli … It is an unceasingly entertaining and stimulating exercise for the mind.’ – The Times
‘A book of lasting importance, a marker of shifting expectations in the male-female relationships of the West.’ – Independent
‘Ruth Brandon writes with a crisp, incisive wit … and creates a powerful wish to explore her territory further.’ – A.S.Byatt, Sunday Times