Representations of middle-class single women in the novel from the mid-nineteenth to the early twentieth century

Ross, Fiona (1996) Representations of middle-class single women in the novel from the mid-nineteenth to the early twentieth century. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

The aims of this thesis are two-fold; to uncover the history of the middle-class single women in the feminist movement from the mid-nineteenth century up to the early twentieth century; and to analyse representations of single women in novels of the same period. The history of the middle-class women's movement in the nineteenth century is to a large extent the history of the single woman. I have consulted major archives of feminist material and identified key discourses relating to female singleness. My sources include private papers, published tracts, biographies and feminist analyses of leading feminist figures, unpublished articles and sketches for articles. I have also consulted a number of periodicals paying particular attention to those directed at a female audience. The key issues and concepts which emerged have enabled the charting of changing ideologies of femininity. I try to show how women derived their identities from the cultural discourses available to them but also how they interrogated the discourses in the process of self-definition. I discuss how issues of female self-construction are fictionalised. These concerns crossed into fiction and were expressed through modes of female heroic action, the making of the heroine, plot lines and narrative devices and strategies. Some writers re-formulated existing literary models in an attempt to re-present the single woman in the novel. Plot structures and narrative forms were, to some extent, necessarily reinvented by the demands of such representation. Fiction engaged with cultural debates and female singleness was increasingly recognised as a forced or voluntary exclusion from the history of marriage. Consequently singleness challenged narratives of matrimony and heterosexual union. The thesis also examines the rationale for the relationship between contexts and narratives and concludes that narratives are embedded within contexts that inevitably affected them, however indirectly. The thesis, then, is structured around the main phases of feminist activity within the period. The analysis begins with the 'superfluous woman' debate of the mid-nineteenth century and the fictive versions and social options which are available for spinsters at this time. It then moves on to the 'militant celibacy' of the suffragettes and shows how this interacts with the figure of the 'New Woman' of the fin-de-siecle. This section of the thesis also includes a discussion of areas of cultural controversy such as sexual anarchy, marriage and the politicisation of spinsterhood through communities of women. Neither the idea of 'militant celibacy' nor the politicisation of the middle-class spinster have hitherto been fully examined in accounts of the British women's movement. The final section of the thesis analyses the impact of the discourses generated by the new 'science' of sexology on modem and post-World War 1 writing. It traces the formation of 'lesbian' identity and settles the point at which the political emphasis of celibacy begins to decline. Some further discussion follows of the relationship between mothers and their spinster daughters in fiction and finally the thesis moves on to a discussion of the sororal bond in the early fiction of Barbara Pym. My thesis covers a range of writers including Charlotte Bronte, Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Gaskell, Margaret Oliphant, James, Gissing, Clemence Dane, Radclyffe Hall, May Sinclair and Barbara Pym.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Adviser: Dorothy McMillan
Keywords: English literature
Date of Award: 1996
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1996-71335
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 10 May 2019 10:49
Last Modified: 10 May 2019 10:49
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/71335

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