From Fallen Woman to Businesswoman: The Radical Voices of Elizabeth Gaskell and Margaret Oliphant
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AbstractThis thesis demonstrates the ways in which Elizabeth Gaskell and Margaret Oliphant drew upon their domestic identities as wives and mothers to write in radical, yet subtle, ways which had the potential to educate and inform their young female readership. While in the nineteenth century the domestic space was viewed as the rightful place for women, I show how both Gaskell and Oliphant expanded this idea to demonstrate within their novels and short stories the importance of what I term an 'extended domesticity'. This thesis charts how Gaskell and Oliphant educated their young female readers to imagine their lives beyond conventional domesticity. The extended version of domesticity they presented offered space for women of all backgrounds and experiences, including those whose lives did not fit into the Victorian ideal of marriage and maternity, to forge their own identities, educate themselves, and find personal fulfillment. Through examples of female characters from several of Gaskell's and Oliphant's novels and short stories, I explore the ways in which both writers made clear the importance of the domestic space as a tool for women's personal growth. Without providing prescriptive answers or solutions, both authors encouraged their readers to make decisions about their own lives by showing them what was possible when domesticity was extended into a place for education and development. They also pointed to possibilities for women beyond the domestic sphere. In the 'Introduction' to the thesis I outline my argument for Gaskell's and Oliphant's 'radical voices', discussing the range of recent critical approaches, as well as positioning Gaskell and Oliphant in their historical context as nineteenth-century women writers. I explore how the rise of feminism affected their work and consider how their way of communicating ideas in fiction differed from the approach taken by their contemporary, George Eliot. Chapter One discusses in detail Gaskell's and Oliphant's domestic identities and how both authors drew upon these to create an extended domesticity within their novels and short stories. I explore the publishing careers of both women before exploring how they exemplified the importance of educating their young female writers with their work. This chapter also introduces Gaskell's focus on representing female sexuality and Oliphant's interest in exploring the choices available for women in marriage and a career. Central to the chapter is a discussion of how both authors extended the boundaries of the domestic by representing it as a place for women to find recuperation, education, and personal growth. They did this, I argue, via their development of 'radical voices'. In Chapter Two the focus is on Gaskell's representation of the 'fallen' or sexually experienced unmarried woman. Through the close analysis of four of Gaskell's novels – Mary Barton, Ruth, North and South and Wives and Daughters - and two of her short stories – 'Lizzie Leigh' and Cousin Phillis, I demonstrate the evolution of her female characters, all of whom experience their sexuality in different ways. While her earlier young women have little autonomy over their lives, her later female characters are endowed with the ability to make their own decisions and forge their own identities. Gaskell makes clear that sexuality is a natural part of women's lives and that even so-called 'fallen' women should have a place in an extended domestic community or family where they will find room for recuperation and rehabilitation. Chapter Three moves on to discuss Oliphant's representation of 'enterprising' women. These women make choices regarding marriage and maternity, and even have identities in the public sphere as businesswomen. Again, through the close analysis of four of Oliphant's novels – Miss Marjoribanks, Phoebe Junior, Hester and Kirsteen - and two of her short stories – 'A Girl of the Period' and 'Mademoiselle', I demonstrate how Oliphant represented a range of female characters who were enterprising in different ways; from those who did not have careers of their own, yet used their talents in their communities, to those who managed their own businesses and enjoyed identities in the public sphere. The 'Conclusion' sums up the main arguments of the thesis, concluding that for both Gaskell and Oliphant their professional identities were as important as their domestic identities and that their novels and short stories suggest that all women could achieve an assimilation of private and public roles. I suggest that by using their radical, yet subtle voices, Gaskell and Oliphant showed that women could make choices and decisions over their own lives which moved them beyond the realms of conventional domesticity.
CitationBaker, K. (2018). From Fallen Woman to Businesswoman: The Radical Voices of Elizabeth Gaskell and Margaret Oliphant. (Doctoral dissertation). University of Chester, United Kingdom.
PublisherUniversity of Chester
TypeThesis or dissertation
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