io9 takes a look at the ladies of experimental lunacy:
It wasn’t until the 1890s, with the advent of the “New Woman,” that fictional women were allowed to be mentally as well as physically and sexually dangerous. The New Woman was a woman who took many of the theoretical ideas of feminism and put them into practice as a lifestyle. She was usually a college graduate–women had begun being admitted to the better British colleges in 1847. She advocated self-fulfillment rather than self-sacrifice, and chose education and a career over marriage. The New Woman was direct in speech and forthright about her political views. She smoked and drank openly, decried restrictive fashions, exercised and played sports. And she was sexually active, or at least advocated sexual freedom, and avoided marriage, seeing it as a trap designed to rob women of their independence.
The fictional female mad scientist was one of the many negative fictional reactions to the New Woman. For many middle and upper-class Victorian men, women were the guardians of civilization and English culture’s higher values. For the New Woman to strive for more than a role as wife and mother was deeply threatening to conservative moralists. For the New Woman to become an intellectual rival to men was even more alarming. Most novels of the 1890s portrayed the New Woman as coming to bad ends, and the novels with fictional female scientists are one version of this reaction.
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