“So Minute and Yet So Alive”: Domestic Modernity in E. H. Young’s William

Stella DeanState University of New York, New Paltz
Vol. 22, No. 1 (Spring 2003), 99-120

Through its engagement in contemporary discourses of gender and domesticity, E. H. Young’s William (1925) both portrays and contains the disruption represented by the modern woman. Departing from strident representations of the New Woman in the popular press, middlebrow novels like William also help to define and valorize a new domesticity. Through Lydia Nesbitt’s decision to leave her husband and to live with another man, Young explores the dual struggle of the human being who tries to locate a self apart from socially assigned roles and then tries to find a new place for that self in the society of her family. In contrast to the self-exile of male modernists, Lydia’s attempt to reshape rather than discard old structures may be more representative of middle-class women’s experiences of modernity.  Young thus outlines a modernity that is inevitably bound up with social and cultural traditions. Moreover, through the perspective of her wise and tolerant father, who struggles to understand the meaning of Lydia’s crisis, Young raises the domestic novel to the level of metaphysical paradox and questioning.  The new domesticity becomes a site for the exploration of “the mystery of personality” articulated by a man of culture.  By identifying with William’s point of view, readers can affirm what Alison Light has called “the literary elevation of the homely.”


Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]