Date of Award
Dissertation - Restricted
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
The nineteenth century woman and the heroines of the nineteenth century novel are frequently conceived of in stereotyped terms. All too often these women are regarded, without exception, as creatures who were kind, gentle, unaspirlng, unassertive, and intellectually feeble. This study explores the limitations of this stereotype by focusing upon five atypical heroines of nineteenth century fiction: Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice, Emna Woodhouse of Emma, Dorothea Brooke of Middlemarch, Maggie Tulliver of The Mill on the Floss. and Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. Each of these heroines possesses that combination of moral sensitivity, intellectual acuity and aspiration which comprises "talent." Each heroine is confronted with this dilemna: How does one reconcile personal aspirations with the demands of a society which is distinctly uncongenial to such aspirations? This study examines the reasons for each heroine's ultimate success or failure as she attempts this reconciliation . in terms of self-image, the self and society, self-definition, aspiration and limitation, and the integration of the self and society.
This dissertation does not attempt to provide a new interpretation of each of the five novels. Rather, it is hoped that its chief contribution will be t o provide a different way of looking at the nineteenth century heroine through the consistent application of the particular perspective afforded by the concept of "talent." The nineteenth century woman, in fact and fiction, has been examined from a number of different perspectives including the historical, the sociological and the critical. More numerous still are thematic studies and analyses of even the minor nineteenth century women novelists. No study to date, however, has attempted a thematic appreciation of the problems of aspiration and scope specifically as they apply to five "talented" heroines in the novels of three equally gifted female authors.