Date of Award

5-11-2015

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Dr. Michael Galchinsky

Second Advisor

Dr. LeeAnne Richardson

Third Advisor

Dr. Paul Schmidt

Abstract

Victorian literature is crowded with scenes of women reaching out and touching one another. Women regularly show their affection through physical manifestations such as hugging, kissing, walking arm-in-arm, and with hands clasped warmly around one another’s waists. Physical manifestations of female affection recur in the great majority of Victorian fiction, from the early to the late period, in a variety of genres, in literature by both male and female authors, and often recur in chapter after chapter.

My study recognizes that in any society, the tacit rules of who touches whom, when, why, where, and how, are complex and deeply-engrained social issues, and close analysis thereof may thus yield much information about a society’s most deeply held values. In addition, nineteenth-century England, with its popular reputation for extreme prudery and restraint, is an enticing place to find such myriad description of physical touch. Why, then, are they there, and why so prevalent? What functions do they serve in the texts? How were these women, and their bodies, read by onlookers? And what meaning and values were ascribed to such depictions by Victorian readers? This work begins to answer these questions, codify the implicit politics of social touching between women in Victorian England, provide a justification for the analysis of such scenes in literature, and develop an initial framework for these analyses. My research has determined that touching behaviors function as markers of various identity constructs including gender, (chapter one of this work), and nationality and social standing (chapter two). In addition, some women were able to manipulate expectations surrounding their physical behavior to accomplish their own ends (chapter three), while the physicality of others results in significant or lasting consequences for the individuals who are touched (chapter four).

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