Vol.15 No. 2, 1994, Fall/ Automne



This second of a two-part essay on Sarah Anne Curzon's "closet drama" examines the novel and duplicitous effects of cross-dressing in The Sweet Girl Graduate. The essay argues that Curzon's play is unique in the theatrical tradition of cross-dressing, first because it provides an extended political argument for the expansion of women's educational privileges and, second, because it displaces the male gaze in order to dramatize female use of, and response to, the cross-dressed body.

Cette seconde partie de l'essai de Céleste Derksen sur les pièces de << théâtre à lire>> de Sarah Anne Curzon étudie les effets nouveaux et ambigus du travestissment théâtral dans The Sweet Girl Graduate. Cet essaie montre que la pièce de Curzon est unique dans la tradition théâtrale du travestissment parce que, d'une part, elle apporte un argument politique de poids en faveur de l'augmentation des privilèges des femmes en matière de formation et que, d'autre part, elle déloge le regard du mâle pour mettre en évidence l'usage du corps travesti par les femmes ainsi que leur réaction à ce corps travesti.

Sarah Anne Curzon's The Sweet Girl Graduate is an overtly political play which challenges the limitations of gender roles and hierarchies. It does so first by providing direct argument against restrictions on women's educational opportunities and, secondly, by revealing the arbitrary and artificial nature of gender constructions. This latter effect is accomplished primarily through the strategy of cross-dressing. However, as I will argue, Curzon's play also contains a certain ambivalence regarding women's roles in society, and the political-and even literary-strategies available to them.

According to its author, The Sweet Girl Graduate was written in 1882 at the request of J.W. Bengough, editor/caricaturist of The Grip, a satirical reformist magazine, "in full sympathy with all efforts to secure the rights of women" (Wagner II: 154). The Grip used humour as a means of discussing "serious" social and political issues, and The Sweet Girl Graduate is one of several comic dramatic sketches to appear in its pages. Evidently literary drama, like the press, was seen as an effective vehicle for social critique in nineteenth-century Canada. 1 Although The Sweet Girl Graduate is a "closet" drama (that is, written for print rather than stage), it effectively brings a female character and the trappings of gender construction "out of the closet." The Sweet Girl Graduate draws upon the "Comedy of Manners," a dramatic form that deals with the intrigues of ladies and gentlemen of high society, and "High Comedy," a form that attempts to evoke "intellectual laughter." Like Sarah Anne Curzon's first dramatic work, Laura Secord, The Heroine of 1812, The Sweet Girl Graduate is a didactic play where the action of argument determines plot movement and characterization. The drama centres on the debate regarding women's higher education, with particular reference to the controversy over their admission to classes at the University of Toronto's University College.

There is a significant amount of writing on the subject of women's education in 1880s newspapers and magazines. The condescending term, "Sweet Girl Graduate," is used in articles that argue against higher education for women, and appears to have been derived from a poem:

Prudes for proctors, dowagers for dean, /
And sweet girl graduates in their golden hair 2

This verse appears in an 1876 article, entitled "Sweet Girl Graduates," which argues that women should be allowed coeducational privileges only as long as "ladies' colleges" have not been built. The reasoning is as follows:

The education which should be imparted in a ladies' college is not the same as that which always will be the curriculum of a university. Their objects are not the same. The place woman fills in society, and the peculiarities of her nature, must determine what is the proper quality of her culture. The highest ideal of society is not that in which women become logic-chompers.... Their proper sphere of action is the domestic circle. (123)

Another satirical article (written in 1884), entitled " 'Sweet Girl Graduates' in England," asks "[w]hat will become of all the tatting and crewel-work heaven only knows" and worries that educated women will "sink into an old age of port-wine and prejudice, and end a childless life of learning in the arms of a college bed-maker" (8). In other words, the author fears that educated women would succumb to the negative effects of the "masculine world" and abandon the values of "women's culture." In her comedy, then, Sarah Anne Curzon is taking part in debate on a specific issue while also attempting to address the larger issue of women's "proper sphere." She faced opposition both from women, who felt their value threatened by such social change, and men, who were threatened by women's entrance into the public sphere. The arguments for and against an expansion of women's educational rights and spheres of activity are skillfully wrought in Curzon's play, in which she reclaims the term "Sweet Girl Graduate" and puts it in positive light.

In The Sweet Girl Graduate, Curzon combines lively argument with theatrical acumen. Her use of cross-dressing is particularly interesting. This is quite a radical ploy for a seemingly devout woman, given that cross-dressing is strictly forbidden by scripture: "The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God" (Deuteronomy 22:5). Of course, in terms of theatrical tradition, cross-dressing has significant historical precedence. 3 Indeed, Curzon is quick, to provide prior authority for her endeavor, having Kate summon the names of Joan of Arc, and Shakespeare's Rosalind and Portia as examples of women who have assumed male dress (148). Nor is this the first example of cross-dressing in Canadian drama. In Charles Mair's Tecumseh, the Indian maiden, Iena, dresses as a brave in order to join her Scottish-poet-soldier-lover in battle, where she sacrifices her life for him. As Jacqueline Pearson notes, many dramas (like those of Mair and Shakespeare) employ cross-dressing as a dramatic ruse in order to facilitate a romantic plot: "In comedy the transvestite will almost invariably settle down to a conventional marriage at the end of the play. In most serious drama she is likely to die, though in heroic tragedy she may be allowed to survive and marry" (101). Curzon's heroine, however, does not adopt male disguise for romantic ruse, but rather for herself-to gain access to power, prove her abilities and improve women's rights. Furthermore, the play does not end in marriage, but rather in political statement. Although transvestism is a traditional theatrical motif, Curzon's use of it contains nontraditional elements.

Curzon employs the strategy of cross-dressing primarily to provide political critique of gender hierarchies. In doing so, the play reveals a canny awareness of how gender roles are constructed through elements such as clothing, hairstyle, gesture and language. 4 Susan Gubar comments:

costuming has a special place in female consciousness and culture.... [C]lothing plays a crucial symbolic role in the response of women to their confinement within patriarchal structures... . [C]ross-dressing becomes a way of ad-dressing and re-dressing the inequities of culturally-defined categories of masculinity and femininity. (478-479)

Although I support Gubar's comments regarding the potentially subversive effect of cross-dressing, her contemporary feminist perspective needs to be tempered by consideration of historical context and reception. In her study of the Victorian stage, for instance, Tracy C. Davis states that "the point of women's cross-dressing was to please, not to deceive" (113). While male disguise appears to offer female characters the potential for liberated movement and independent action, Davis argues that the male clothing covering the cross-dressed actress' body (tights and short tunics, for instance) actually served to further fetishize female anatomy and so continued to support the voyeuristic male gaze. Thus, in Victorian drama, cross-dressing is an equivocal strategy. Jacqueline Pearson's comments regarding Renaissance and Restoration drama are also relevant here:

The transvestite motif ... has an inbuilt ambiguity. The assumption of male disguises might allow either an extreme assertion of a woman's independence or an extreme demonstration of her dependence on men and the male order. (109)

Or, as I would argue in reference to Curzon's play, it might maintain the contradiction. Cross-dressing has the potential "simultaneously to support and to subvert the status quo" (Pearson 103). In The Sweet Girl Graduate, Curzon subverts the status quo by revealing the arbitrariness of gender limitations, while at the same time her play reinforces gender hierarchies through its appeal to male authority to justify the heroine's actions. Furthermore, Kate's response to her own "femininity," and to the "masculine" dress and behavior she adopts, reveals an ambivalent attitude regarding her sex. Although I do not wish to foreclose the ambiguity inherent in Curzon's use of the transvestite motif, I would argue that it functions primarily to provide a feminist critique of gender restrictions. Equally importantly, the play dramatizes female use of, and response to, cross-dressing. The Sweet Girl Graduate thus subverts male voyeurism by displacing the male view of the female cross-dressed body with an account of a woman's own view.

The play opens with a monologue in which Kate decries "The crass ingratitude of haughty man, / Vested in all the pride of place and power" who have refused her admission to University, not because of ability, "but that, forsooth, we wear / The Petticoat" (143, my emphases). Already, the author draws the parallel between male and female dress and the power accorded to each. Mr. Bloggs, Kate's father and "straightman," enters and provides two common arguments against her further education: that she knows "enough to wed" and that, if admitted to the university, she would "turn the head of all the boys" (143-144). Mr. Bloggs, a representative of the merchant middle class, sees woman's proper sphere as domestic. He falls back upon the argument that allowing women to study with men would have dangerous moral (read sexual) repercussions. Interestingly, when logical argument fails, Kate convinces her father to provide monetary support for her education through what Catherine Cleverdon terms "feminine persuasion" (4). An example of this strategy is found in the article, "Women's Power" (written in 1884), in which the author argues that a wife can change her husband, "to raise him, perhaps slowly, but surely, to her own standard," by using the following tactics:

Let her first touch his heart-through pity, through shame, or even through his mere passions, but once possess power over that and it will not be difficult to influence the brain.

The author encourages women to remain within their traditional roles, but to employ emotional and sexual guile to influence men and so secure their needs. This is precisely the strategy that Kate adopts in order to gain her father's financial support:

If I obtain
the honours hung so tantalizingly
Before us by the University,
Will you defray the cost, as hitherto
You've done, like my own kind papa? She kisses him. (144)

Thus Kate employs "feminine persuasion" to obtain access to more "legitimate" forms of power.

Mr. Bloggs' objections are held even more strenuously by his wife, who asks Kate: "What'll men think of you if you go sittin' down on the same benches at the colleges, and studyin' off of the same desk, and, like enough- for there are girls bold enough for that- out of the same books?" (144). Mrs. Bloggs' upright judgements are expressed in colloquial dialect and malapropisms: "And what must the professor think women are comin' to when they want to learn mathyphysics and metamatics" (144). Here Curzon broadly parodies the maternal, uneducated woman. Kate provides her mother with an argument supporting women's education that is a virtual carbon copy of policy statements put forth by late nineteenth-century women's advocates:

Now, mamma, you know we have gone all over this before, and shall never agree, because I think that the better educated a woman is, the better she can fulfill her home duties, especially in the care and management of the health of her family, and the proper training of her sons and daughters as good citizens. (144)

Kate employs this "party-line" pronouncement as a strategy to persuade and appease her mother (and readers sympathetic to Mrs. Bloggs' viewpoint), but it does not necessarily conform to her own reasons for furthering her education--especially since she has already renounced her desire to marry (143). Kate provides different reasons for her education to her mother, her father and herself. Kate's contradictory statements are similar to those put forth by nineteenth-century women activists, whose arguments often shifted with their audience. In reference to Mrs. Bloggs' fear of the moral (sexual) consequences of coeducation, Kate responds with a fine counter-argument that exploits her mother's logical inconsistencies and double-standards: "Well mamma, I think the real shame, as you call it, is that you, and other ladies, will allow your daughters to go about to picnics, parties ... with any man who happens to ask them ... and yet you see nothing but impropriety in my desire to attend college" (145). Kate asserts that she has a right to the same education as men, not the education of the "ladies' college" which "promise to deliver lectures specially 'altered to suit the female capacity"' (145). Her arguments reject segregated education on the grounds that it supports the notion of women's mental inferiority and continues to restrict their sphere of activity.

In the second scene, Kate reveals her plot to masquerade as a man to her cousin, Orphea. Curzon employs character names for both humorous and rhetorical effect. Here, the association of name and character is comically contradictory. Orphea is the feminine form of Orpheus, the mythic musician/philosopher. However, Curzon's Orphea is no philosopher. Although she timidly admires her cousin's "outrageous" spirit, Orphea functions as a prototype of conventional, middle-class femininity. Kate, a popular name of the period, evokes Shakespeare's "shrew," but unlike his Kate, Curzon's character does not lose her feisty character and capitulate to marriage. This ironic use of name reveals how Curzon constructs character "types" that are "rhetorical" rather than "realistic."5

Like its characterizations, the language of the play is stylized and rhetorical. At first, Kate's pseudo-Shakespearean verse serves to aggrandize her brave character. Here, however, her elevated tone is cleverly undercut as she reveals her plot to masquerade as a man in a brief, to the point, statement:

A deed I'll blush for, yet I'll do't; and charge
Its ugliness on those who forced me to't-
In short, I'll wear the breeks. (146)

In contrast to her own, usually erudite and elevated diction, Kate lampoons the tone and style of language associated with male superiority:

'll train my voice to mouth out short, thick words, As Bosh! Trash! Fudge! Rot! And I'll cultivate
An Abernethian, self-assertive style.(146)

Kate's mockery of male language and behavior serves to emphasize the affectedness of gender hierarchies. Clothing, hair and headwear are also major sources of word and, if the play were to be produced, potential stage play: Kate will wear her shorn hair as a "crown" when she is able to reassume female form (146); but for the present she sacrifices the "wavy locks, that won my father's pride" (146) for the "whiskers" that will win her "[t]he hood!" (147). These passages portray male dominance as a result of appearance and opportunity rather than innate superiority. On one level, this would appear to be a strong feminist position. Conversely, Kate's mockery of male behavior may serve to reinforce the reader's estimation of conventionally feminine attributes, such as elegance and modesty. Similarly, Kate's early descriptions of female clothing and manners present women as "lovely" and "mannish garb" as "dreadful!" (146). Initially, at least, the play reaffirms "feminine" values and qualities while it also expresses frustration with the lack of credence these qualities receive and the corresponding dearth of public exercise available to women.

In The Sweet Girl Graduate, Curzon exhibits wit and self-parody-two qualities lacking in her serious poetic drama, Laura Secord. Act Two opens as Kate, now dressed in the "divided skirt," delivers a grandiose speech that juxtaposes her "feminine" fear with her newfound courage. But unlike Curzon's characterization of Laura Secord, Kate's grandiloquence quickly lapses into comic expostulation when she smells a cigar: "pah, the nasty things!" Curzon continually undercuts her heroine's lofty self-image, with lively dramatic effect. She also injects a comical endorsement for temperance when Kate assures herself that there must be men who "will not plunge into/Those dreadful orgies that the Globe describes,/Of men half-tight with lager and old rye" (149). The combination of lofty and comic language, high ideals and silliness, maintains an effective rhetorical argument without sacrificing dramatic or didactic effect.

In Act Three, Orphea reads a letter in which Kate announces her scholastic success and offers a female view of the cross-dressed body:

I am not inclined to regret the step rendered necessary by my devotion to my sex, for use has made me quite at home in the- ah- divided skirt! How many lovely girls have I danced with through the rosy hours who will never more smile on me as they were wont to smile! How many flowers of rhetoric have been wasted on me by the irony of fate! How many billets-doux, so perfumed and pretty, lie in my desk addressed to my nether garment! (150)

In this passage, Kate positions herself as both the agent and the recipient of the gaze. At first, she appears to adopt a "masculine" voyeuristic position in the description of her "lovely" dance partners. However, she then displaces this position by situating herself as the recipient of the women's smiling, and desiring, gaze. Instead of the male voyeuristic stance directed at the female cross-dressed body (which Tracy C. Davis identifies as the paradigm in Victorian theatre), Curzon provides an account of a woman's own view of the female cross-dressed body. Furthermore, Kate's avowals of her attraction to other women could be read as a veiled acknowledgment of lesbian desire. This suggestion arises as much from the structure and style of the scene, as it does from its content. The fact that this scene is scripted in a letter, a written discursive form, within a larger written discursive form (the closet drama), constructs another layer of distance or "veiling," possibly to protect its author from public scrutiny. 6 In addition, within this letter, Kate describes other letters-"billets doux" to be more specific. In parallel, Kate's letter, directed to her cousin, is itself a "billet doux." In it, Kate expresses her yearning to be reunited with Orphea, who resembles the "lovely girls" whose company Kate has so greatly enjoyed and who have also smiled upon her. In turn, Orphea, who reads the letter aloud (and so in a sense adopts Kate's voice), is provided with the opportunity to express her own desire. Thus, through structural recursion (the nesting of one writing within another writing), and discursive role-reversal between writer and reader, as well as through displacement of the male gaze, this scene provides a complex expression of female, and possibly lesbian, desire.

On a more conventional level, Kate's letter can also be read as an ode to the beauties of womanhood. However, while initially hesitant to don "dreadful" male apparel, Kate now finds herself loath to return to the garment of femininity: "Ali, my dear Orphea, what do I not sacrifice on the altar of my sex" (150). Here, again, the play reveals an ambivalence regarding the gender trappings of both "masculine" and "feminine" roles. Nevertheless, Kate must return to female form in order to make her point regarding the unfairness and arbitrariness of gender limitations and to secure future rights for women. Kate's "unmasking" does not serve to resolve a romantic plot, as is common in many nineteenth-century plays that employ the motif of transvestism, but rather it supports a political position. The end of the letter describes the glamorous costume she will wear at her "coming out:" "Not a button less than forty on the gloves" (150). Kate carefully reconstructs the female self with an excessive display of the "trappings" of her gender. As she sheds her "masculine" mask, she assumes yet another mask, which is exceedingly-perhaps even parodically-"feminine." Kate's letter also describes the equally ostentatious preparations for her "coming-out" party. She has "engaged every boy in the public schools [to] bring back as many maiden-hairs as he can find. Ferns are my craze, as you know" (150, my emphasis). On the one hand, this passage seems to signal Kate's return to the glories of "female culture." On the other hand, its excess may signify a critique of society women and their capricious fashions. Because of the ambivalence regarding "femininity" that permeates this play, it is difficult to fix Curzon's position. Furthermore, in her letter, Kate expresses both regret and acceptance that her return to female form will mean that she, like the "maiden-hairs" (a word which metonymically suggests the term "maidenheads"), will be imprisoned again like a "hothouse flower."

In the final Act, Tom Christopher (Kate's bland alias) gives a valedictory speech which sets the scene for his/her final triumph. Once Kate reappears in female form, Orphea swoons, and the gendered balance of power is restored. Or is it? In his article, "Playwrights in a Vacuum," Michael Tait criticizes The Sweet Girl Graduate for its "creator's inability to cut sufficiently free from the confines of gentility and public decorum' (17). In his cursory evaluation, Tait fails to consider or appreciate Curzon's pragmatic form of subversion. Although certainly genteel and "decorous," Kate gives the final speeches and does not abandon her active role as she calls for the support of her male comrades to lobby Parliament for women's rights.7> On one level, the cross-dressed heroine's return to female dress and appeal to male authority demonstrate her dependence on men and the patriarchal order. However, on a pragmatic level, this request for male support provides another instance of Curzon's nineteenth-century feminist political/literary strategy. As historical commentators note, Canadian women won much by persuading, rather than alienating, men on behalf of their cause (Cleverdon 7-8, Bacchi 20). Thus, the "Sweet Girl Graduate," mocked as a monstrosity by critics of women's education, is presented here positively and non-threateningly. By returning Kate to the female fold, Curzon challenges the status quo without upsetting it altogether. Nonetheless, Curzon's critique of gender roles is insidious.8

The Sweet Girl Graduate is set, appropriately enough, within the confines of middle class society. In Ontario, the movement towards women's higher education (and suffrage) was promoted mainly by women who "revolted against the complacent, inactive, useless life of traditional middle-class wifedom and demanded an arena for action" (Bacchi 21-22). Ann Douglas argues that the passive role afforded to women, which she calls "feminine disestablishment" (44), resulted from industrialization of the same sort occurring in Ontario in the late nineteenth-century. Women no longer had a productive place for their energies and so began working towards educational and social reform. Curzon played an important role in the Canadian movement:

she worked industriously by contributions to the daily press, and by discussions in the Women's Literary Club, in order to obtain for women the right to all college and university privileges in arts, science and medicine. She had the satisfaction of seeing her own daughter become a graduate of the University and assistant analyst in the School of Practical Science, Toronto. With her co-laborer, Dr. Emily Stowe, Curzon also assisted in founding the Women's Medical College.... She was a strong advocate of Woman Suffrage, and with others she worked earnestly and with success in obtaining for married women more control of their own property, and in securing the measure of enfranchisement which women now enjoy in the Province of Ontario. (Lady Edgar 4)

This lengthy quotation suggests the effectiveness of Curzon's "conservative" persuasion in both political and literary spheres. It also reminds us that Curzon, and others like her, paved the way for the rights Canadian women have today. As Carol Lee Bacchi comments, those "who had intended that more advanced studies only develop a woman's mental discipline, fitting her better for her maternal duty, underestimated the effects of education. Many intelligent women, after attending college, became restless and sought more fulfilling work than the traditional domestic. routine. Higher education began an irreversible process which led women to demand access to the world outside the home" (21). Indeed, at the end of The Sweet Girl Graduate, the reader is left with an image of a female character who, like its author, continues in her activism and refuses to stay in the closet of the female domestic sphere.


In Laura Secord, The Heroine of 1812 and The Sweet Girl Graduate, Sarah Anne Curzon gives women characters the public voice that their living counterparts were generally denied. Both plays may be viewed as policy pronouncements: Laura Secord argues that women have the ideals, the ability, and the right to participate in national policy; The Sweet Girl Graduate reasons for expansion of women's educational privileges and spheres of activity. The representations of women in these plays are both practical and problematical. Even as gender limitations are undermined (Kate's cross-dressing and Laura's physical daring, for instance), conventionally "feminine" values are reasserted. While in both plays Curzon is careful not to undermine gender boundaries entirely, she does show that these boundaries are constructed, rather than given, and so open to evolution. The evolution she supports is an expansion, rather than an abandonment, of women's ideals, rights, and spheres of influence and she manipulates literary and social conventions to this end. As such, Curzon's plays reveal the complexities of nineteenth-century feminist literary practice.


1 See Ann Saddlemyer for an account of other playscripts that appeared in The Grip (329-30). Saddlemyer also notes that there were a "remarkable number of politically active theatrical pamphleteers" in nineteenth-century Canada (8).
Return to article

2 This anonymous poem is quoted in the article, "Sweet Girl Graduates," Queen's College Journal, Kingston, 16 December 1876. An excerpt from the article is reprinted in Cook and Mitchinson, 122-4.
Return to article

3 For useful studies of cross-dressing in Renaissance, Restoration and Victorian drama see: Jean E. Howard, "Crossdressing, The Theatre, and Gender Struggle in Early Modem England"; Jacqueline Pearson, The Prostituted Muse; Tracy C. Davis, Actresses as Working Women; Sue Ellen Case, Feminism and Theatre; and Laurence Senelick, "The Evolution of the Male Impersonator on the Nineteenth-Century Popular Stage."
Return to article

4 Jill Dolan explains the distinction between the terms sex and gender in terms of contemporary feminist thought:

Sex is biological, based in genital differences between males and females. Gender, on the other hand, is a fashioning of maleness and femaleness into the cultural categories of masculinity and femininity. These adjectives describe cultural attributes that determine sex roles. (6)

Return to article

5 The notion of what constitutes a "realistic" character in pre-naturalist drama is quite different than that of post-naturalist theatre. Late nineteenth-century dramatists appear to have been interested in a "realism" of "type," rather than in individualized characters. As a result, idiosyncratic behaviors and internal psychological motivations are largely absent in their plays.
Return to article

6 Curzon's literary, rather than literal, use of cross-dressing has other repercussions. One the one hand, because the play is a "closet drama," its literary "protective covering" denies the literal voyeuristic gaze directed at the female cross-dressed actress' body. On the other hand, this literary "protective covering" also diffuses the potentially subversive shock of having an cross-dressed actress appear on the nineteenth-century Canadian stage in a female-authored, Canadian play.
Return to article

7 Gender role reversal was a popular strategy among suffragists. In 1914, for instance, Nellie McClung was involved in writing and performing a piece of what we now call agitprop, which took the form of a mock parliament where women were the legislators arguing the pros and cons of giving men the vote (McClung 120-21).
Return to article

8 In comparison with the play Culture! (1888), The Sweet Girl Graduate is a much more challenging text than it might at first appear. Interestingly, the author of Culture! veils his/her identity threefold: by remaining anonymous, by alleging that the play is an adaptation from a foreign source, and by the disclaimer that "the author does not hold himself personally responsible for the opinions of Mr. Henry Harris" (although the author refers to "himself," it certainly remains possible that the play was composed by a woman). These clues give an indication of the controversial nature of the subject of women's education. In Culture!, the appropriately named "Bella" is an example of the middle-class urban wife, living a life of tea-parties and lawn-tennis. Henry, who continually ridicules his wife with endearments like "simpleton" (15) and "this little brain here" (20), loses interest in Bella because of her limited education. His mother-in-law blames him for this, suggesting that he ought to "have taken her in hand himself' (19) and taught her what he wants her to know. Secretly, Bella goes to University and, when her plan is revealed, she dazzles her husband with her erudition. Despite his seeming endorsement of her project, Henry continually patronizes the "girl graduate" (8): "what good times they [her professors] must have with you ladies" (12); "you must show me your note books and sketches. They will be awfully amusing!" (It). Bella's knowledge is portrayed as tedious recitation, supporting the popular view that while women might have good memories, they do not have reasoning capabilities equal to men (Douglas 59). Nonetheless, Bella's knowledge intimidates her husband. Henry's mother-in-law offers this solution: "speak to her from your heart. This goes further with us women than anything" (19). Henry takes her advice and proposes a trip to Europe. Bella happily agrees to the plan and throws her books in the fire. Despite the author's disclaimer, the play suggests that women's interests and capabilities in education are capricious and that men should "take them in hand" and help them to be happier, better wives, which is, after all, their "proper sphere." In comparison with this view, one gets a sense of strong activism in Curzon's drama.
Return to article


Bacchi, Carol Lee. Liberation Deferred? Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1983.

Cleverdon, Catherine L. The Woman Suffrage Movement in Canada. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1950.

Cook, Ramsay and Wendy Mitchinson, eds. The Proper Sphere. Toronto: Oxford UP, 1976.

Culture! Halifax: Halifax Printing Company, 1889.

Curzon, Sarah Anne. "Laura Secord, The Heroine of 1812." Canada's Lost Plays: Volume One: The Nineteenth Century. Ed. Anton Wagner. Toronto: CTR Publications, 1978.

________. The Sweet Girl Graduate. Canada's Lost Plays: Volume Two: Women Pioneers. Ed. Anton Wagner. Toronto:CTR Publications, 1979.

Davis, Tracy C. Actresses As Working Women. New York: Routledge, 1991.

Dolan, Jill. The Feminist Spectator as Critic. Ann Arbor: UMI Research P, 1988.

Douglas, Ann. The Feminization of American Culture. New York: Knopf, 1977.

Edwards, Murray. A Stage in Our Past. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1968.

Gubar, Susan. "Blessings in Disguise." Massachusetts Review 22 (Winter 1981): 475-508.

Howard, Jean. "Crossdressing, The Theatre, and Gender Struggle in Early Modem England." Shakespeare Quarterly 39 (1988): 418-40.

Lady Edgar. "Sketch of Mrs. Curzon's Life and Work." Women's Canadian Historical Society of Toronto, Transaction 2 (1899): 3-4.

McClung, Nellie L. The Stream Runs Fast. Toronto: Thomas Allen, 1945.

Mair, Charles. Tecumseh. Toronto: Hunter, Rose and Company, 1886.

Pearson, Jacqueline. The Prostituted Muse.New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988.

Saddlemyer, Ann. Introduction. Early Stages: Theatre in Ontario 1800-1912. Ed. Ann Saddlemyer. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1990.

Senelick, Laurence. "The Evolution of the Male Impersonator." Essays in Theatre 1 (1982): 30-44

"'Sweet Girl Graduates' in England." Ladies Journal [Toronto] September 1884: 8.

Tait, Michael. "Playwrights in a Vacuum." Canadian Literature 16 (Spring 1963): 5-18.

Wagner, Anton, ed. Canada's Lost Plays: Volume One: The Nineteenth Century. Toronto: CTR Publications, 1978.

________, ed. Canada's Lost Plays: Volume Two: Women Pioneers. Toronto: CTR Publications, 1979.

"Women's Power." Ladies Journal [Toronto] May 1884: 8.