For Shame: Emotion, Gender, And Innovation In The Nineteenth-Century British Novel
This dissertation argues that the British novel was shaped to a large and as yet unexplored extent by shame. While shame might appear the hallmark of Victorian repression, I examine how its revisionary potential works through nineteenth-century novelistic form, troubling limited constructions of gendered subjectivity, social roles, and modes of literary engagement. From the genre's inception, novelists and readers courted the shame-linked to the excessively emotional and feminine-that marked novelistic production and consumption. Rather than disavow or downplay such shame, however, nineteenth-century novelists often embraced and reimagined it. Elizabeth Bennet's "mortifying perusal" of Darcy's letter, Jane Eyre's humiliation before the classroom at Lowood, Becky Sharp's scandalous exposure when caught with Lord Steyne: in these scenes, innovations in novelistic form occur not in spite of shame, but through it. Reading such scenes of shame in works by Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, William Makepeace Thackeray, and George Du Maurier, I show how influential experiments in narrative technique engage shame as a model of selfconscious reflection, narration, and reading that refines the novel's form and cultural status by redefining the implications of close contact with feminized emotion. Such displays of shameful self-consciousness countered the widespread denigration of irrational feminine emotiveness that haunted the novelist and novel reader throughout the century, offering instead an analytic yet still emotionally charged form of investment in literary and social conventions. By placing these texts in dialogue with historical and current theories of emotion that highlight shame's capacity to forge identity and social attachments in ways that do not depend on strict identification with others or with social norms more broadly, I approach nineteenth-century novels as incisive theorizations of shame in their own right. In thus helping us to think beyond a stark binary of identification or critical detachment, novelistic shame enriches ongoing discussions of the stakes of emotional investments-in others, in social conventions, and in literature.
Shaw, Harry Edmund; Brown, Laura Schaefer
English Language & Literature
Ph.D. of English Language & Literature
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis