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“Varieties of Pain”: An Exploration of Female Melancholy in the Victorian Realist Novel Open Access

Descriptions

Other title
Subject/Keyword
home
melancholy
history of medicine
poetry
Dickens
mother
Bronte
wife
realism
novel
condition of women
psychology
Victorian
gender
domestic
illness
women
Victorian literature
Type of item
Thesis
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Fieldberg, Allison L
Supervisor and department
Sinnema, Peter (English and Film Studies)
Examining committee member and department
Surridge, Lisa (English)
Sinnema, Peter (English and Film Studies)
Greer, Joan (Art & Design)
Hamilton, Susan (English and Film Studies)
Simpson, Mark (English and Film Studies)
Department
Department of English and Film Studies
Specialization
English
Date accepted
2012-08-10T10:21:07Z
Graduation date
2012-11
Degree
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Doctoral
Abstract
This dissertation is about the work of melancholy in the Victorian realist novel, particularly those texts written in the late 1840s. The representation of melancholy affords an examination of a wide scope of issues that relate to the family, generally, and to the role of the middle-class women in the family in this particular historical moment, specifically. Because of the close association between the strategies of psychiatric treatment in the period and ideologies of the “proper” organization of the bourgeois family, writing or thinking about mental illness or theories of the mind necessarily calls up theories of the domestic and vice versa. Because early Victorian psychiatrists or alienists, as they were called, predicated sound mental health on the ability of an individual to maintain self-control, exhibit “proper” gendered behavior, and in a sense, cooperate with his or her male guardians within a pseudo-domestic structure, notions of the “ideal” family scene invariably arise in all discussions of the treatment of the mentally ill. The three texts discussed in this thesis reveal a female protagonist who is more or less melancholic but importantly, each text attributes the arrival of its protagonist’s melancholic suffering and the exacerbation of this suffering to debilitating domestic circumstances. Each of these melancholic female characters becomes acutely aware of her failures and her missteps through a protracted engagement with melancholic introspection. Importantly, her desire to conform and, in some sense, re-commit herself to the cult of the domestic arises in the moment of her most intense melancholic suffering. In the isolation and solitude that melancholy affords, each of these protagonists connects to a mode of self-reflection and introspection that allows them to see not only the ways they have diverged from the “ideal” of “proper” womanhood, but importantly, to recognize that the mitigation of this divergence necessitates submission to forms of social and familial control that will only further their suffering. Thus, melancholy, in my estimation and in these novels, is very rarely a means by which the female melancholic protagonist rebels or reforms domestic structure. Rather, it is most often the means by which she, and the novel itself, reaffirm the centrality of the “home” within middle-class social structure at mid-century.
Language
English
DOI
doi:10.7939/R3MM11
Rights
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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