Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Hoeveler, Diane L.
While perpetually redefined and reimagined by conduct books writers, social philosophers, and literary figures of the eighteenth century, the gentleman is a term that holds significant cultural and social cache through the nineteenth century. My project seeks to untangle the discourse around the gentleman by examining how women writers use work to re-categorize the gentleman and to open access to genteel masculinity for professional men and other marginalized masculinities. The dynamic that we can observe in courtship novels--texts where the interconnectivity of gender allows for the interrogation of performance--enables us to recognize how the professionalization of gender has exploited the anxieties of the aristocracy's uncertain physical and social place in an evolving class system.
Drawing my theoretical background from Judith Butler's Gender Trouble (1990), I discuss the gentleman as a specific and characteristic gender performance, one that has its definition validated by the productive work that he performs. This performance, its execution in behaviors and other performative aspects of gender, presents us with accessible ways to redefine masculinity and positions women writers as didactic authorities in the education of men.
If masculinity shifts to accommodate performative aspects of gentility, then the county estate loses its fragile claim as the single marker of a man's identity. However, the effects of property and the constructs of home refigure into the gentleman's identity through their use as sites of work and places of performance, not as static touchstones of genteel identity. I argue throughout my dissertation that Charlotte Smith, Jane Austen, and Elizabeth Gaskell anticipate the influence that industrialism and capitalism will have on gender roles and constructs of home. In addition to creating a new sort of heroine, these women writers also worked to construct a new image of masculinity, the bourgeois gentleman, a man who mediated between earlier aristocratic and landed ideals of masculinity and his new middle-class, professional or merit-based identity.