Oceans apart: women readers in the Nineteenth-century British and American novel

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Martha Broadaway Griffin (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/
Mary Ellis Gibson

Abstract: This dissertation provides a transatlantic, historical approach to women's reading, analyzing within that context representations of fictional women readers, bearing in mind the cultural anxiety surrounding "the reading habit." These fictional readers contributed to the phenomenon of "the woman reader," and representations of reading women shaped ideas about women's intellectual abilities, public voices, and domestic roles. The following chapters offer a comparative analysis of women readers in select British and American novels to consider their cultural and political implications. Ultimately, I claim that women readers in the American novel read to establish agency in the service of establishing a national identity, while women readers in the British novel read to establish agency within the domestic sphere with the aim of extending their influence into their immediate community. While anxiety surrounding the "woman reader" straddled the Atlantic, over the long nineteenth-century she developed differently on opposite shores. The following chapters investigate affinities between British and American texts as well divisions resulting from divergent historical and cultural circumstances. My investigation includes the American novels: The Coquette, Hope Leslie, The Wide, Wide World, and Work and British novels: Belinda, Mansfield Park, Villette and The Doctor's Wife, to extrapolate how historical circumstances shaped and were shaped by female literary culture of the period. These novels were chosen because they portray readers at pivotal moments in their respective national histories. To approach how authors construct women readers, I ask such questions as: Who is reading? What are they reading? Why was the novel dangerous? The answers support my argument that political events, women's status, and women's literature are intertwined and impacted by the changing role of the household. When sociopolitical ideologies differ, the elements that "construct" the woman reader change. This is where the value of a transatlantic consideration lies.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2011
Women Readers, Fiction, British Novels, American Novels
Women in literature $x History $y 19th century
Women $x Books and reading $z United States $x History $y 19th century
Women $x Books and reading $z Great Britain $x History $y 19th century
Women and literature $z Great Britain $x History $y 19th century

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