Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Mary E. Papke

Committee Members

David Goslee, Tom Haddox, Amy Neff


Pius IX in the 1854 Bull Ineffabilis Deus defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception as the belief that Mary; mother of Jesus, was from the moment of her conception free from the "stain of original sin." This idea was a part of ecclesiastical tradition, but prior to this time, the church had not officially defined Mary's sinless nature in writing. The publication of this definition, along with published accounts of Marian sightings, contributed to an already heightened awareness of her in a literate, culturally aware public. As a result, Protestant writers who sought to invoke her image interpreted a "new" Virgin Mary to a largely Protestant public that saw her mostly as an exotic Catholic "other." In my project, I explore the idea of the reconstructed Protestant Virgin Mary and examine how this type affected images of women in nineteenth century British/American literature and popular culture from 1850-1910. I establish precedence for this idea by first examining the image of the Virgin Mary in twelfth-century France, a culture which experienced economic and social upheavals similar to the ones that occurred during the nineteenth century. From there, my argument then focuses on a particular case of how Protestant male writers constructed the Virgin Mary and how a defining characteristic meant to glorify feminine divinity could be turned into a vehicle to support the "eternal needs of man's heart"-as the Victorian heroine evolved into a sentimental, sexless, disempowered rendition of the Virgin Mary. Why male writers? Primarily, male writers and publishers in both countries held a great amount of power in the literary world from 1850-1900, so they would have had a great deal of influence on the reading public. My work also explores the ways that religion, language, popular culture, and the media work together in determining consumer-driven images of women. In the first half of my dissertation, I discuss Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Charles Kingsley, Algernon Charles Swinburne, Robert Browning, John Ruskin, and the Pre-Raphaelites. In the second half, I examine the American writers Mark Twain, Henry James, and Henry Adams. My conclusion shows how the Protestant Madonna eventually evolved into a ludicrous type, no longer useful by the end of the century.

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