Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

David Goslee


This study of the popular novelist Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1835 - 1915) analyzes her attitudes toward women in select 1860s novels: The Doctor's Wife, The Lady's Mile, Dead-Sea Fruit, Birds of Prey, and Charlotte's Inheritance. As Braddon negotiates between paradigms presented in contemporary advice manuals and in documents written by the most vocal feminist group of the time - the Langhamites - her approach to her female characters varies according to their stage in life. The further they progress from daughter, to young unmarried woman, to wife, and occasionally to independent woman, the less Braddon' s attitude toward them aligns with the advice manrials. As the characters move through these stages, they generally gain a greater sense of personal agency and move from a realm where their relationships determine them to one in which they determine their relationships. Arguing that girls and women have an inherent value and that their worth is not contingent on male or societal approval, Braddon repeatedly advises readers to think on their own and to treat themselves with respect. She sympathetically portrays characters who push against confining boundaries, take responsibility for their own lives, and follow non-traditional paths. Braddon also emphasizes girls' and women's value by creating individual characters, not types. As the personalities of the eleven women analyzed here demonstrate, there is no typical Braddon female character - no typical Braddon daughter, young unmarried woman, wife, or independent woman. The collection of instructions that make up the manuals offers one-size-fits-all, black-and-white advice, while the essay form used by the Langhamites offers generic iv goals. In contrast, the novel form gave Braddon great flexibility, allowing her to draw individuals, show the consequences of their decisions, depict their changing options in changing situations, and comment on them with nuance and ambiguity. Her treatment of women is, thus, more individualized than the advice manuals' and more pragmatic than the Langhamites'. The combination of Braddon's three-dimensional approach to the female character and her effective storytelling enabled readers to experience her characters' lives vicariously and internalize her ideas.

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