Women in their worlds of objects : construction of female agency through things in the novels of Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell

Huang, Pei-Ching Sophia

English
July 2015

Thesis or dissertation


Rights
© 2015 Pei-Ching Sophia Huang. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.
Abstract

This thesis argues that Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell employ textually important objects to explore women’s demeaning status in patriarchal societies and their construction of agency in such circumstances. In their novels, both Austen and Gaskell portray female characters as interacting in various ways with material things: the characters experience objects through their five senses, create them, recycle them, inhabit them, or purchase and possess them. It is true that not every item connected with the novels’ heroines bears the same significance, but those that play a prominent part in the plot or receive unusual descriptive attention convey messages that the novels do not express explicitly.

This thesis follows thing theorists’ call for a reading that begins with objects, in particular the paradigm Elaine Freedgood offers of recovering literary objects’ materiality and socio-historical backgrounds before incorporating those veiled meanings into novelistic interpretation. Nevertheless, this work also differs from the thing theory studies by which it is informed in that it is centred upon the perception that the meanings of things are gendered and relies heavily on the narrative framework of a text in its choice of objects for discussion. In my five chapters, I investigate each of the two novelists’ object worlds and focus on things with which their female characters directly engage, mainly domestic interiors and luxuries. My examination follows a rough chronological order, beginning with Austen’s six major works before moving on to Gaskell’s novels. This thesis suggests that Austen and Gaskell, despite the separation of three decades, use objects in their writing to explore an issue that is relevant not only to their female characters but also to women in general: the construction of agency within the existing patriarchal structure.

Publisher
Department of English, The University of Hull
Supervisor
Sanders, Valerie, 1956-
Sponsor (Organisation)
Taiwan. Jiao yu ting
Qualification level
Doctoral
Qualification name
PhD
Language
English
Extent
2 MB
Identifier
hull:13224
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