The regulation of female identity in the novels of Florence Marryat

Pope, Catherine (2014) The regulation of female identity in the novels of Florence Marryat. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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This thesis evaluates the contribution to Victorian literary and cultural debate of Florence Marryat (1833-99) a prolific and varied writer yet to receive sustained critical attention. Specifically, I examine her many fictional representations of the legal, medical, and religious regulation of female identity in novels published between 1865 and 1899. I argue that Marryat goes further than other contemporary writers in subverting gender norms and theorising in fiction a transgressive female. By considering Marryat’s output in relation to comparator authors, I demonstrate how her work represents a uniquely radical protest, anticipating and prefiguring the New Woman writing of the fin de siècle. I also show how Marryat appropriates different styles of rhetoric to expose and challenge various mid-Victorian notions of ‘woman’ constructed for the purposes of regulation.

By representing and then challenging the regulation of female identity, Marryat’s novels provide an important insight into how Victorian gender roles were constructed. My research shows that her work constitutes an effective protest against this regulation, evidenced by the critical response which attempted to undermine her reputation and arguments. I examine these criticisms in detail, showing how Marryat’s novels became a space in which she engaged with her critics, thereby pushing literary and gender boundaries. By bringing critical insight and contextual knowledge to close readings of Marryat’s novels, I reveal the feminist meaning hitherto occluded by literary regulation and subsequent superficial interpretations. Through extensive archival research, I also explain how Marryat used her own experiences to educate her readers, often appearing as a character in the novels. I propose that this direct relationship with her audience, presenting feminist ideas in a quasi-polemical style, makes Marryat’s oeuvre distinctive and worthy of further consideration. While Marryat is often considered a writer of ephemeral romances, I establish her as an early feminist who questioned and subverted nineteenth-century notions of femininity.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Arts and Humanities > English
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature > PR4000 19th century, 1770/1800-1890/1900 > PR4979 Maryatt, Florence
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 19 Aug 2014 14:48
Last Modified: 16 Mar 2022 15:50

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