Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Dr. Nancy Henry

Committee Members

Dr. Nancy Henry, Dr. Amy Billone, Dr. Gerard Cohen-Vrignaud, Dr. Monica Black


There is a dissonance between the folkloric fairies and those presented by pop-cultural institutions such as Disney which has effected modern literary criticism of nineteenth-century British literature. The Disnified fairy is feminine, small, capable of flight, often with insect-like wings, and equipped with a magic wand with which she does good deeds to help others. She is largely based on fairy tales and is the embodiment of the modern conceptualization of the fairy, but she bears little, if any, resemblance to the fearsome fairies of Celtic folklore. Although nineteenth-century literature is rife with folkloric fairy references, those references are frequently undervalued by modern-day critics who read them through a Disney-tinted lens. Because such critics undervalue nineteenth-century fairy references, they overlook the voice the fairies give to marginalized groups in nineteenth-century societal discourses. This dissertation seeks to rectify this shortcoming by exploring the folklore published throughout the nineteenth century and applying it to nineteenth-century literature in a way that adds significance to those folkloric fairy references and highlights their place in nineteenth-century British social discourses. To more fully explore why nineteenth-century authors include references to the folkloric fairies in their works and to better understand how knowledge of this folklore helps the reader better interpret the work itself, each chapter of this dissertation explores the fairies in relationship to one of the century’s dominant social discourses: national identity, industrialism, science and religion, and childhood education. This dissertation also looks at atypical fairy works in relationship to each discourse. These are canonical works that are not typically discussed in relationship to the fairies, but which, I argue, either have characters within them that have yet to be properly identified as fairy or are fairy influenced.

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