Ambivalence in Victorian women’s writing: Ellen Wood’s East Lynne, Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret, Margaret Oliphant’s Hester

Coşar Çelik, Seda
The simultaneous rise of Victorian women’s movement and the dominance of female authorship and readership in the nineteenth century prompted scholars of Victorian literature to interpret women’s novels as fictional examples of Victorian feminism or anti-feminism. Yet, this study stresses the ambivalent nature of women’s fiction by paying attention to the contradiction between the feminist and subversive content in women’s texts and their anti-feminist and disciplinary treatment. Exemplary underread novels from two opposing literary genres are examined in detail: Ellen Wood’s East Lynne (1861), Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret (1862), as representative samples of the sensation genre and Margaret Oliphant’s Hester (1883), as an anti-sensational domestic novel. Close readings of these novels and the examination of additional non-fiction writings by Margaret Oliphant demonstrate that (1) Victorian women’s writings cannot be clustered as feminist or anti-feminist, they represent a bifurcated voice due to the disciplinary power that operate on different levels and with varying effects both in the novels (through characterization, plot formation, narrative voice and perspective) and among the texts, the genres and the novelists, (2) the moralizing reading experience can turn into a tool of controlling and disciplining Victorian women readers (3) although the generic conventions of both the sensation novel and the domestic novel proceed to the disadvantage of the heroine, the ways of disciplining in both genres are different. The sensational narratives display severe and grievous forms of disciplining while the disciplinary power of domestic narratives is subtle, milder and less transparent.


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Citation Formats
S. Coşar Çelik, “Ambivalence in Victorian women’s writing: Ellen Wood’s East Lynne, Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret, Margaret Oliphant’s Hester,” Ph.D. - Doctoral Program, Middle East Technical University, 2014.