Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Domestic topographies: Gender and the house in the nineteenth century British novel
by Callaghan, Elizabeth Palm, Ph.D., University of Southern California, 2009, 247; 3355371
Abstract (Summary)

Domestic Topographies examines the nexus between gender identity and the material conditions of the nineteenth-century British home. A new kind of literary investigation, a “gender topography,” allows for an examination of the intersection between struggles over shifting gender roles and identities, the cultural meaning of the home, and the representation of domestic space in the novel. Gender identity and domestic ideology are both produced by the material conditions of the middle-class house, but further, the very materiality and perception of domestic spaces changes as a result of reigning ideals of gender and home life. Chapter One begins by theorizing a new narrative development in the nineteenth century, a technique that produces a “narrative tour” of the house. Dickens’ David Copperfield illustrates the way this tour enunciates gender identities and relations, forcing David to learn to read properly and perform gender within the context of various kinds of homes. For women, this performance of gender relies upon increasingly visible housekeeping activities. Chapter Two analyzes Austen’s Emma and Oliphant’s Miss Marjoribanks, suggesting that as increasingly visible housekeeping activities became integral to middle-class identity, women developed new social and even political power through the management of their homes. This power, though, comes with the pressure to maintain a “proper” house in the face of its potential loss, and Chapter Three unpacks the core tension underlying the threat of domestic dispossession: for women like Anne Elliot in Austen’s Persuasion, Maggie Tulliver in Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss, and Sue Bridehead in Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, the Victorian home is both safe sanctuary and stifling prison. The project ends by analyzing the logical culmination of domestic anxiety: the haunted house story. By reading these narratives as part of the realist tradition, instead of as Gothic or sensational literature, we can see that stories of haunted houses express material anxieties over the gender politics that inform domestic ideology. Domestic Topographies, then, opens new space for addressing the production of gender ideals by focusing on the material conditions that affect and sustain concepts of nineteenth-century feminine and masculine identity.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Boone, Joseph A.
Commitee: Banner, Lois, Kincaid, James R.
School: University of Southern California
Department: English
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 70/05, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: British and Irish literature
Keywords: Austen, Jane, British, Dickens, Charles, Domesticity, Eliot, George, Gender, Hardy, Thomas, House, Nineteenth century, Novel, Oliphant, Margaret
Publication Number: 3355371
ISBN: 978-1-109-13806-1
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