Lingering 'on the borderland': the meanings of home in Elizabeth Gaskell's fiction

Lambert, Carolyn Shelagh (2012) Lingering 'on the borderland': the meanings of home in Elizabeth Gaskell's fiction. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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Abstract

This thesis explores the meanings of home in Elizabeth Gaskell’s fiction. I argue that there are five components to Gaskell’s fictional iteration of homes, each of which is explored in the chapters of this thesis. I analyse the ways in which Gaskell challenges the nineteenth-century cultural construct of the home as a domestic sanctuary offering protection from the strains and stresses of the external world. Gaskell’s fictional homes frequently fail to provide a place of safety. Even the architecture militates against a sense of peace and privacy. Doors and windows are ambiguous openings through which death can enter, and are potent signifiers of entrapment as well as protective barriers. The underlying fragility of Gaskell’s concept of home is illustrated by her narratives of homelessness, which for her, is better defined as a psychological, social and emotional separation rather than the literal lack of shelter. Education takes place within the home and is grounded in Gaskell’s Unitarian beliefs and associationist psychology. Gaskell creates challenging paradigms for domestic relationships in her fictional portrayals of feminized men and servants. Her detailed descriptions of domestic interiors provide nuanced and unconventional interpretations of character and behaviour.
I draw on Gaskell’s letters, her non-fiction writing and a range of other contemporary documents for insights into her fictional presentations of home. This methodology provides a creative, holistic interpretative framework within which Gaskell’s achievement can be more adequately measured. I argue that Gaskell’s own experience of home was that of an outsider lingering on the borderland, and her concept of home was therefore unstable, fluid and unconventional. The tensions she experienced in her personal life found their way into her fiction, where her portrayal of home is multifaceted and complex.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of English > English
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature > PR0111 Women authors
P Language and Literature > PR English literature > PR0161 By period > PR0401 Modern > PR0451 19th century
P Language and Literature > PR English literature > PR4000 19th century, 1770/1800-1890/1900 > PR4710 Gaskell, Mrs. Elizabeth
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 29 Aug 2012 07:37
Last Modified: 04 Sep 2015 14:47
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/40499

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