Mona Caird

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Mona Caird (1854-1932)

Brief Biography

Mona Caird lived from 1854 to 1932.  She was a visionary feminist, novelist, social critic, personal-rights advocate, and anti-vivisectionist.   Though she was a prevalent writer throughout her life, not much information is available regarding her personal life. 

Caird published her first novel in 1883, at the age of twenty-nine.  Her first two novels she wrote under the pseudonym Noel G. Hatton.  She published Whom Nature Leadeth in 1883 and One That Wins in 1887.  After the success of these works, Caird began to publish under her real name.  In1888 she published “Marriage,” a sixteen page article in the Westminster Review.  She argued that for women marriage was “a vexatious failure” (Daughters of Danuas, 493).  Caird argued that chastity “has virtually no connection with the woman’s own nature” …..the whole social system of England amounted to “legalized injustice” (Danuas, 494).

Caird wrote within the feminist modern society. As she wrote on controversial topics such as the evils of marriage.  Critics claim "Victorian times were not ready for the works of Mona Caird, who is seen as a first wave feminist writer (Heilmann 67).

Many controversies surround her many writings and ideas. "Her new radical ideas caught the people of her time off guard. Caird’s goal was to make the concerns of women a public knowledge. She wanted to educate the community on what women were facing, no matter how hard they tried to ignore the reality. Much of her writings were based on birth control, pregnancy, the right for a women to be a single mother, marriage, adultery and prostitution. In a time where marriage was deemed so important, she compared it to prostitution. She looked “at marriage as husbands owning public property,” (Heilmann 73)  Marriage in her view would consist of giving and taking, a contract where both people’s needs have been met (Stephanie Forward).

Many believe that Caird’s strong view against marriage comes from the reality of her own failed marriage.  “She spent most of the years apart from her husband traveling the world. And family friends said that they didn’t see much interaction between the two, but that their marriage seemed “happy enough” (Heilmann 78). She popularized the idea that if a woman isn’t happy in her marriage, then she has the right to leave or commit adultery (Forward).

Caird also touched upon motherhood in her writings. Caird argued that “a mother didn’t always have the natural instincts to love her child.  She looked at motherhood as the “sign and seal as well as the means and methods of a women’s bondage” (Heilmann 71 qtd by Forward). 

It is believed that Caird’s views about motherhood “came from her struggle with her own son. The mother-son bond wasn’t there, which caused her son to grow up and turn into everything that she was fighting against” (Heilmann 81 qtd by Forward).  Because of the relationship with her son, Caird suffered a nervous breakdown in the 1890s (Forward).

Throughout her life Caird wrote seven books, along with many short stories. She touched on many topics such as the rights of citizens, nature of womanhood, and sexual division in labor. She strongly believed that society degraded women to the level of children By having man in control with all the power, women had no voice and no opinion. While these ideas were deemed controversial at the time, they actually derive from her own life (Forward).

It was not until the 1970s, with the growth of the feminist movement, that people again started to appreciate her works (Heilmann 86). Although her positions and work were questioned during her lifetime, Caird helped open society's eyes to the conception that women should have the right to choose and make their own decisions (Forward).

Caird’s publication of “Marriage” in the Westminster Review in 1888 was perhaps her greatest achievement.  It sparked the most famous newspaper controversy of the nineteenth century, declaring in 1888 in the Westminster Review that marriage in its present form was 'a vexatious failure'. In “Marriage” Caird  “expressed the opinion that marriage was “a vexatious failure”, referring to the “legalized injustice” of England’s social system; and she proposed a new ideal of true equality and partnership, in which a key element would be economic independence for women. Caird’s article attracted considerable attention, predominantly from middle-class” (Heilmann).

Caird was also part of the Men and Women’s Club. Through her association with this club, Caird began a relationship with Olive Schreiner.  While feminists like Schreiner supported Caird’s views, others thought of her as a “narrow one-sided woman violently prejudiced against men” (Forward).

Caird was also against vivisection. In The Sanctuary of Mercy Caird calls for the "abolishment of testing on animals," as well as a "revolt against injustice and cruelty, not only to humans, but also the animals" (Caird).

Caird was important in creating a groundwork to twentieth century feminists.  Her views on marriage, motherhood and vivisection led to great controversy and arguments on the injustices of marriage and the suppression of women in both marriage and society.

Primary Sources

Caird, Mona. "A Sentimental View of Vivisection," LONDON: (Date unknown).

Caird, Mona. Beyond the Pale. An Appeal on Behalf of the Victims of Vivisection. (Publicatio Unknown). (Location Unknown). (Date Unknown).

Caird, Mona (a.k.a “Hatton, G. Noel). Whom Nature Leadeth. Longman’s Green & Co., London. 1883.

Caird, Mona (a.k.a “Hatton, G. Noel). One That Wins. London. 1887.

Caird, Mona. “Marriage.” Westminster Review 130, # 2 (August 1888).

The Daughters of Danaus. The Feminist Press. New York.1989.

“Does Marriage Hinder a Women’s Self-Development.” The Daughters of  Danaus. The Feminist Press. New York.1989

The Wing of Azrael. London. Trübner & Co., 1889

 A Romance of the Moors. London. 1891.

The Morality of Marriage and Other Essays on the Status and Destiny of Women. London. 1897.

 The Pathway of the Gods, London. Skeffington & Son. 1898.

 “A Ridiculous God,” Monthly Review XXV. #74 (November 1906).

 Romantic Cities of Provence. London, Fisher Unwin, 1906.

“Punishment for Crimes against Women and Children.” Westminster Review 170 (November 1908).

  “The Lot of Women.” Westminster Review. 174 no. 1 (July 1910).

“The Role of Brute Force in Human Destiny.” Quest VIII (1915).

 The Stones of Sacrifice London. Simpkin, Marshall, et al. 1915

“The Greater Community,” Fortnightly Review 110 (November 1918).

 The Great Wave. London. Wishart and Co. 1930

The Sanctuary of Mercy.

Secondary Sources

Banks, Olive. Faces of Feminism. A Study of Feminism as a Social Movement. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1981) Mallet, “Women and Marriage.”

Basch, Francoise. Relative Creatures: Victorian Women in Society and the Novel, New York, 1984.

Cain, Barbara. Victorian Feminists. Oxford University Press. Toronto. 1992.

Gleadle, Kathryne. The Early Feminists. St. Martin’s Press, New York. 1998.

Heilmann Ann. “Mona Caird, Wild Woman, New Women, and Early Radical Feminist Critic of Marriage and Motherhood”. Women's History Review. Volume 5 # 1. 1996

Mallet, P. “Women and Marriage in Victorian Society.’ In E.M. Craik (ed.) Marriage and Property (Aberdeen University Press, 1984).

Shanley, Lyndon Mary. Feminism, Marriage and the Law in Victorian England, 1850-1895 (L. B. Tauris, 1989).

Showalter, Elaine. A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Brontë to Lessing, Princton, NJ, 1977.

Stubbs, Patricia.  Women and Fiction: Feminism and the Novel 1880-1920. Brighton, 1979.

Forward, Stephanie. "Attitudes to Marriage and Prostitution in the Writings of Live Schreiner. Mona Caird, Sarah Grand and George Egerton. Women's History Review, Vol. 8, No. 1, 1999.

Available Images

Caird, Mona. The Daughters of Danaus. The Feminist Press. New York.1989.

Prepared by Diane Dudley (2004).

Nipissing University
Contact:  Professor Ann-Barbara Graff
Department of English Studies
Last modified: October 12, 2004