Positioning the woman writer: Augusta Webster and her Victorian context

Lei, Victoria (2000) Positioning the woman writer: Augusta Webster and her Victorian context. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis takes its direction from the belief that the preoccupations of a period are often most helpfully discussed through the work of its so-called minor writers. Such writers also enable the critic to articulate and clarify the concerns of other writers more firmly established in the canon. At the same time, of course, the minor writer is inevitably given importance and position within the context of the period, in a fruitful two way process. This is particularly the case with the Victorian writer Augusta Webster since her use of a wide variety of literary genres helps to express the breadth of literary culture in the period. At the same time, since she is a woman and a woman writer, subject to the historical circumstances peculiar to her sex, a study of her work enables the articulation of the linked literary, social and political concerns that surround the problem of identifying how writers construct and are constructed by gender. Positioning Augusta Webster, which is what this thesis seeks to do, thus unavoidably involves a discussion of the Victorian context within which she works and, I hope, goes some way to illuminating both the writer and the context. I begin by offering a literary and biographical overview with the aim of identifying the major issues both formal and historical which she encountered as an aspiring writer and semi-public figure. I try to show that her growth as a writer was linked to her preoccupations with the 'woman question', specifically with the education, work and political situation of women. I try also to show how these issues were those of the time and how Augusta Webster's treatment of them affected contemporary responses to her work. The Introduction is followed by a chapter on Webster's novel, Lesley's Guardians. My next chapter engages with Webster's translations of Æschylus and Euripides. The central section of my thesis is devoted to Webster's most famous work, A Castaway, which notoriously provides the fallen woman, here a middle-class prostitute, with a voice. Dickens, Gaskell and Barrett Browning are also introduced in their treatment of the fallen woman. Portraits, in the next chapter and the way in which the outsider is employed as social critic is analysed. Chapter five deals with Webster's closet dramas. I begin with brief outlines of these little known works; place them among other nineteenth century dramas and note that they were generally well reviewed. The sixth chapter takes Webster's writing life towards its conclusion with a discussion of her fantasy for girls. Daffodil and the Croäxaxicans. This story of the adventures of a young girl in a frog kingdom is situated within the genre of Victorian writing for children. I conclude with some speculation about the reputation of Augusta Webster. Beginning with Theodore Watts-Dunton's prediction that Webster would, like many others, probably be forgotten after her death, I suggest that although the factors that shape the subsequent reputation of a writer are extremely complex, some possibilities may be put forward to explain why Webster is only now becoming known again.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
Supervisor's Name: McMillan, Ms. Dorothy
Date of Award: 2000
Depositing User: Mrs Marie Cairney
Unique ID: glathesis:2000-40935
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 14 Jan 2019 16:36
Last Modified: 02 Nov 2022 20:23
URI: https://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/40935

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