Date of Award

Spring 5-10-2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dr. Leeanne Richardson

Second Advisor

Dr. Paul Schmidt

Third Advisor

Dr. Melissa McLeod


This analysis will explore the progression and transformation of carnivalesque theory in six novels. The carnivalesque analysis will focus on Victorian women and the working class over a time period beginning around 1830 and ending in 1910. The novels that comprise this study are Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native and Jude the Obscure; Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South and Charlotte Bronte’s Shirley; and finally Arnold Bennett’s The Old Wives’ Tale and E. M. Forster’s Howards End. The study intends to show a progression in the role of women that utilizes carnivalesque display as a vehicle. Women in the Hardy novels represent those who rebel against prescriptive Victorian mores in the midst of carnivalesque scenes. Hardy intends to use transgressive women and the suffering they endure to illustrate how Victorian rules of decorum and the institution of marriage are confining to point of being destructive. Gaskell and Bronte’s novels represent industrial or condition-of-England novels that show how Victorian women gain greater access and understanding of the working class and poor through spending time with these groups while performing charitable works. The carnivalesque has indeed undergone a partial transformation because scenes that overturn authority occur not only in public settings like the marketplace, but they also show up in the form of worker strikes and uprisings. Because the females in these novels have a greater understanding of the plight of the poor workers, they are able to advocate on their behalf and exert influence upon the managers and owners that helps to bring about reform in the workers’ situation. Finally the last two novels represent the culmination of this study as they reveal how carnivalesque scenes, both public and private, frame the experiences of two sets of sisters, both of which occupy the liminal space between the Victorian Age and Modernism. Women have progressed to the point of being able to overcome adversity and personal failure and grow into strong, independent individuals who speak for themselves, live independently, exert their own authority, and finally vote.