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Title: The Woman Observer in the Nineteenth-Century British Novel
Authors: Schwartz, Lucina
Advisors: Nord, Deborah
Department: English
Certificate Program: Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies
Class Year: 2019
Abstract: Abstract: This thesis examines the figure of the woman observer within several nineteenth-century British novels: Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (1814), Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847), Charlotte Brontë’s Villette (1853), Charles Dickens’ Bleak House (1853), and Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White (1860). These women are socially as well as narratively marginal—poor relations, servants, teachers, unmarried, ambiguously classed. The literary depiction of such women is perhaps unsurprising in a century that increasingly saw unmarried, working women as a social problem. In these novels, women largely observe social interactions, character, and emotion. This seems to respond to the Enlightenment’s obsession with empirical observation as a way of knowing everything from the movement of the heavens to the movement of human passions. Enlightenment discourses of observation were occasionally gendered—women were thought to be ideal observers of emotion—and ideological developments in the nineteenth century continued to wed women’s capabilities with emotion. Austen and the Brontës’ women observers appear to accord with gendered expectations of observation, but their observation of emotion appears anything but natural. Indeed, the texts I examine reveal how a woman’s observation of emotion is shaped by her social position—specifically, her gender and class. Accordingly, I deploy an intersectional analysis of how interactions of class and gender create expectations for how women ought to observe. Focusing on how women observers observe within a system of social constraints may appear dispiriting. But it also offers a fascinating look at fictional experiences of marginality in a century of social unease and upheaval.
Type of Material: Princeton University Senior Theses
Language: en
Appears in Collections:English, 1925-2024

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