House and home in late Victorian women's poetry

McGowran, Katharine Margaret

Literature; Mass media; Performing arts
September 1999

Thesis or dissertation

© 1999 Katharine Margaret McGowran. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

Any consideration of the theme of ‘house and home’ leads into discussion on three different levels of discourse. First of all, houses have biographical and historical significance; they are, after all, real places in which real lives are lived. Secondly, home is an ideologically loaded noun, a bastion of value which is inextricably entwined with the notion of the pure woman. Thirdly, in literature, houses are metaphorical places. This thesis is primarily a study of those metaphorical places. It explores representations of ‘house’ and ‘home’ in late Victorian women's poetry. However, it also takes account of the biographical, historical and ideological significance of the house, looking at factors which may have helped to shape each poet's representations of ‘house and home’.

The house occupies an ambiguous position in the poetry of the later Victorian period. It is variously imagined as a haunted house, a ruin, an empty house of echoes, and a prison of isolation and despair. At times, the house is a recognisable domestic place (the private house), at others, it is turned into a place of art or poetry, a new aesthetic ‘home’ for the female imagination. In some poems the house is a focus for nostalgia and homesickness. Yet it is also often a place which must be left behind. What unites the poets I have studied is the fact that the houses they inhabit in their work are never entirely their own and they are rarely entirely at home in them. Home is less roomy as a concept. It tends to carry religious or ideological connotations and is usually represented as a place of duty and responsibility. It also comes to mean the final resting place: the grave. Thus house and home, which are not identical terms, are freighted with different meanings. It is the mismatch of these two terms, the tension between them, which I explore in this thesis.

Department of English, The University of Hull
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