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Title: Good Girls: Female Agency and Convention in the Nineteenth-Century British Novel
Authors: Rogers, Hope Hayes
Advisors: Johnson, Claudia L
Nord, Deborah
Contributors: English Department
Keywords: Agency
British novel
Subjects: English literature
Women's studies
Issue Date: 2019
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), Jane Austen’s Emma (1815), Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford (1853), Margaret Oliphant’s Miss Marjoribanks (1866), and George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda (1876) all feature female heroines whose small actions drive their respective novels but have proven confounding to critics. I argue that these actions demonstrate meaningful agency despite—and really because of—the conventionality for which they have often been dismissed. Reconsidering these actions enlarges our understanding of female agency and its role in the nineteenth-century novel. In Good Girls: Female Agency and Convention in the Nineteenth-Century British Novel, I analyze how female characters adhere to standards of acceptable behavior in one area to evade restrictions in another. I refer to this strategy as conventional agency. Through their conventional actions, women exercise positive freedom, overcoming constraints to act. Conventional agency reshapes not only possibilities for female behavior but also the form of the novel. Novels that highlight such actions eschew melodrama and, to a certain extent, plot itself to focus on the minor and quotidian. Narrative innovations like episodic structures and anticlimactic endings emphasize this focus on small individual actions rather than plotting. Such features have often been read as flaws, but I reread them as meaningful aesthetic choices.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:English

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