Blog Archives

Dissertation Proposal Extract: Gender and the Novel in 19th Century Britain.

Charlotte Brontë, idealiserat porträtt, 1873, efter skiss av George Richmond, 1850

Brief extract of my proposed dissertation topic. Very much a work in progress:

The topic I wish to focus on for my dissertation is the changing attitudes and portrayal of women and men by female authors in Britain during the 19th Century. The way I wish to go about my dissertation is by reading a number of novels by famous British female authors such as: Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Shelley, Emily Bronte, Mary Elizabeth Brandon, Anne Bronte and George Eliot. Using these novels I will attempt to look at the changing gender attitudes of men towards women and women towards women. This will explore women’s ideas of the self and sensibility, how they saw themselves within society, how they saw themselves in terms of having relationships with men and their personal ideas on their own sexuality and self-worth. I will also set these novels within the context of the author’s own views and life. From this I will set these portrayals within the wider context of Victorian society and try and reveal how much this tells us about women’s place politically and historically and try and connect it to the periods immediately before and after.

The reason I wish to focus only on female authors is because it was a time when women went from using male pseudonym’s to using their own names, actually earned money from literature and became an extremely popular source of entertainment within British society. Furthermore, many of these novels were not only very controversial at a time when gender attitudes had reverted back to being extremely conservative, but they also reveal a lot about women’s changing perspectives towards sex and power within the home. This was a weighty form of feminism as it masqueraded as entertainment, but had a powerful effect on readers and allowed women to write about strong and often flawed females, a topic largely ignored at the time. Culturally novels had never been so popular, so it is a very revealing lens through which to explore historical attitudes towards gender and women. Furthermore, as women had little influence within the political and social spheres, representing themselves though the cultural medium was the only way women really had of getting their changing views across to a wider audience. However, even this was set within the male dominated world of publishing, which in itself constricted female authors.

I wish to go about this ideally by splitting each author into a separate chapter and within each chapter discussing the historical context and the reception and debate they generated. This will also tie in with any feminist activity occurring at the time. I will not only study those novels, but I will also read widely on Victorian society as a whole and look into feminist movements that were taking place within Britain.