• Gender disruption, rivalry, and same-sex desire in the work of Victorian women writers

      Harding, Andrew C. (University of Chester, 2012-11)
      This thesis examines the important role of female same-sex relationships in nineteenth-century literature and culture. Whilst drawing directly upon Sharon Marcus‟s recent book, Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England, a revisionary queer reading of inter-dependent same-sex female intimacy and mainstream middle-class heteronormative ideals, my own study extends the parameters of Marcus‟s work by focussing on alternative contexts and previously overlooked same-sex female relationships. This thesis argues that the culturally endorsed model of Victorian female homosociality identified by Marcus was subject to disruption and transformation both within and beyond the institutions of marriage and the family. It concludes that various forms (rather than one definitive model) of homosocial desire shaped nineteenth-century female bonding. In the first chapter I explore the unstable social status of working middle-class women, and identify instances of employer/employee female intimacy organised upon a disturbance or reversal of social hierarchy. In the second chapter I demonstrate how the ideal of female amity was inevitably undermined in the literary marketplace, and that whilst women writers were engaged in constructing and disseminating this ideal in their novels, they were also embroiled in a series of professional jealousies with one another which served to undo the very ideal they were promoting. In the second part of this chapter I highlight the pluralism of mainstream homoerotic femininity by examining Dinah Mulock Craik‟s fictional representation of homoerotic surveillance manifest in a culturally endorsed adolescent female gaze. In the third chapter I challenge Marcus‟s claim that well-known independent nineteenth-century lesbians were fully accommodated into mainstream „respectable‟ society by demonstrating that some of these women informed Eliza Lynn Linton‟s homophobic portrait of radical feminist separatism. I also explore in this chapter Linton‟s fictional representation of sororal eroticism, and argue that (notwithstanding mother/daughter bonds) Linton, like many of her contemporaries, regarded sisterhood as the primary bond between women. I also evidence in this chapter that Linton‟s portrait of „sororophobia‟ is comparable with cultural ideals regarding the important function that female friends had in facilitating one another‟s marriage.