Graduate Thesis Or Dissertation


The adorned and the adored : issues of sympathy and ownership in Victorian literature Public Deposited

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  • This thesis is comprised of two articles that examine sympathy, material culture, and ownership in Victorian literature. In the first article, I explore the figure of the heiress in the Victorian literary tradition, focusing on Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and Charles Dickens's Great Expectations. George Eliot marked the heiress figure as unsympathetic, no matter her incarnation: whether the moralist of popular fiction or madwoman of gothic fiction, she is representative of excess and indulgence—ideas that society wanted to condemn in harmony with Georges Batailles's observation that a time of indulgence will be checked by a return to conservative bourgeois ideals. The heiress is made a vessel for these cultural anxieties, representing both the desire for and reaction against material possession within the larger male imperial imaginary landscape. The heiress is a way for the male protagonist to indulge in a decadent coming-of-age narrative before being scalded by his secular desires, abandoning this dream for bourgeois security. I employ the criticism of Batailles, Laura Brown, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, etc., in order to discover how the heiress is objectified and controlled, yet, in the greater narrative structure, finds ways to act outside of the male linguistic system as an agent for change—bringing about the collapse of the fake set and props of the material world. In the second article, I examine Charles Dickens's attempts to control his printed materials and his belief that he could coalesce the expanding literate public into a faithful readership. However, Dickens was troubled by illicit reproductions of his work by the popular presses. In order to look at Dickens's concerns not only over losing control of his product, but also having the emotional essence of his characters and stories compromised, I turn to Bleak House which, critics have established, is in part a treatise against unlicensed copies. I argue that the character of Lady Dedlock serves as a representation of Dickens since she, like him, relies on the popular press in order to maintain her social standing, yet she also imagines that she is above them—though, in reality, much of her "private" life is already in public hands. I focus, specifically, on an unlicensed image of Lady Dedlock (that she is unaware of) that has been reproduced in a collection that anyone can purchase. In the end, Dickens allows his fiction to speak for him, forcing the reader to process the invasive horror of unlicensed copies through the emotion they feel for the actual, authentic woman.
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