Liberating Conversations: John Stuart Mill and Mona Caird



This essay considers how the New Woman writer Mona Caird engaged with John Stuart Mill’s ideas on liberty of discussion. It offers a brief history of Caird scholarship and considers the importance of free discussion to fin-de-siècle New Woman debates. It outlines four elements of Millian philosophy which Caird draws on in her fictional depictions of conversation: male-female friendship, independent thought, self-development, and a quest for precision in word choice and usage. Finally, it traces these elements through Caird’s novels and short stories, charting a development from her nineteenth-century fiction – which focuses on private discussion in upper-class domestic settings – to her twentieth-century novels – which consider directly how private conversational practices translate into political and scientific discussion groups open to a greater diversity of participants.