Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)

5-2010

Type of Culminating Activity

Thesis

Degree Title

Master of Arts in English, Literature

Department

English

Major Advisor

Carol Martin, Ph.D.

Abstract

Victorian girlhood literature frequently reflects and reinforces the dominant gender ideology of English culture by constructing female protagonists who are ultimately rewarded for conforming to the domestic ideal of the Victorian era. Through the medium of children’s literature, writers and publishers responded and contributed to the discourse on women’s roles in Victorian society, reacting to—and often against—the Women’s Rights Movement and the rise of The New Woman by targeting The New Girl. The object of my research is to examine (1) the ways in which Francis Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess and The Secret Garden, as well as The Girl’s Own Paper assess female value by the standard of motherhood; and (2) how these texts offer models to girlhood readers both contemporary and modern. The texts work paradoxically both to question and reinforce dominant Victorian gender ideology. More importantly, these portrayals work to influence the identity formation of their readers, imparting to them what it means to be a good and successful female and thus limiting their choice in identity construction. This study reveals the female-centered gender ideology present in these texts and how/why it impacted readers. This is accomplished through close readings utilizing historicist and feminist lenses, as well as using studies conducted on the impact of literature on identity construction in adolescents. Through further research and dissemination of this knowledge, classics such as Burnett’s girlhood fiction may be read and taught within their historical contexts and modern writers may create a wider array of female models for readers to choose from.

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