This essay examines the ethical and rhetorical significance that narrative knowledge holds for women’s public articulation of belief in Sarah Grand’s New Woman trilogy (1888–1897). Grand’s novels’ interest in moral and political expression has led critics, early and late, to criticize Grand for moralizing. The novels themselves, however, express a similar concern, and strive to distinguish between moral expression aimed to effect positive change and moral expression aimed toward self-promotion. A public speaker on women’s issues herself, Grand portrays her feminist heroines’ airing of their beliefs as essential to their moral development. While demonstrating moral articulation as key to self-awareness, Grand’s narrators emphasize the selfless unselfconsciousness behind her heroines’ expressions of belief—an unself-consciousness that maneuvers around the risk that self-awareness might become self-regard. Narrative can pinpoint this selfless unself-consciousness, but, as Grand realizes, it can also transform it into just another instance of moralizing self-promotion on the part of the author. This essay reveals that Grand’s unorthodox narrative forms, previously assumed to be isolated experiments, serve as part of a complex rhetorical schema that allows Grand to grasp at ethical self-awareness that avoids self-absorption as she speaks out for moral and political change for women. Grand ultimately understands her authorial voice as engaged in a kind of secular prayer, in which her intended audience lies somewhere between self and other, the purpose of her expression somewhere between self-reflection and rhetorical efficacy. Training her readers to interpret a version of her heroines’ selfless unself-consciousness in themselves and others, Grand imagines an ethically self-reflective, rhetorically powerful mode of moral agency for women facing misinterpretation in the real, "narratorless" world.
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