‘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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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
Funder's Name: UNSPECIFIED
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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