Date of Award

Spring 5-11-2015

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Dr. LeeAnne Richardson

Second Advisor

Dr. Paul Schmidt

Third Advisor

Dr. Randy Malamud

Abstract

This dissertation focuses on the triangulated relationship among female sexuality, patriarchy, and empire and examines literary and historical texts to understand how Britons increasingly identified as imperialists over the course of the nineteenth century. This project, the first book-length study of its kind, features analyses of canonical works like Mansfield Park, David Copperfield, and Adam Bede as well as analyses of paintings, etchings, conference proceedings, newspaper advertisements, colonial reports, political tracts, and medical records from Britain and its colonies. I challenge critical conceptions of the fallen woman as a trope of domestic fiction whose position as outcast illustrates the stigmatization of female sex during the nineteenth century, and I argue that the depiction and punishment of fallen women in multiple genres reveal an interest in protecting and maintaining an imperial system that claims moral superiority over the people it colonizes. My critical stance is both feminist and postcolonial, and my work complicates readings of fallen women in Victorian literature while also adding significantly to scholarship on gender and empire begun by Anne McClintock and Philippa Levine. I claim that during the nineteenth century, the fallen woman comes to represent that which will threaten patriarchal and imperial power, and her regulation reveals an intent to purify the British conscience and strengthen the nation’s sense of itself as a moral and exceptional leader in the world. My investigation into fallenness and empire through a wide range of texts underscores the centrality of imperialism to British society and to the lives of Britons living far removed from colonial sites like India or East Africa.

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