‘A large and passionate humanity plays about her’: Women and moral agency in the late Victorian social problem novel

Murdoch, Christina (2012) ‘A large and passionate humanity plays about her’: Women and moral agency in the late Victorian social problem novel. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

This thesis examines responses to the idea of a specific female moral
agency in depictions of women’s philanthropic work by late nineteenthcentury
female novelists. Focusing on depictions of romantic and sexual
female experience in the late nineteenth-century campaign against poverty,
I explore the role of gender and sexuality in the making of the female
moral self in novels by Mrs. Humphry Ward, Iota, Margaret Harkness,
Jane Hume Clapperton, Gertrude Dix. I demonstrate the manner in which
altruism was linked to romantic love and sexual desire, and show how this
idea surfaced in the love-plot in novels by late nineteenth-century women.
I argue that the novel was regarded as a valuable instrument to further the
process of social reform, owing to its perceived unique ability to arouse
the reader’s sympathies; therefore, these novelists used the novel as a tool
for constructing the altruistic self. Reading the novels alongside
contemporary non-fiction discourse, I undertake an analysis of different
romance plots and show how they relate to the debates of the social reform
movement of the late nineteenth century. Finally, I suggest that by using
the novel, and especially the romance plot, which was regarded as a
feminine form of expression, these novelists are defending the idea of a
feminine ethic, and a feminine conception of morality that was defined by
emotion, feeling, and sympathy, as opposed to the more masculine
scientific and sociological ideas behind the late nineteenth century social
reform movement.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
Supervisor's Name: Blair, Dr. Kirstie
Date of Award: 2012
Depositing User: Christina Murdoch Murdoch
Unique ID: glathesis:2012-3703
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 18 Feb 2013 09:57
Last Modified: 18 Feb 2013 10:04
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/3703

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