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Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Pacific Access Restricted

Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)



First Advisor

Cynthia Dobbs

First Committee Member

Amy Smith

Second Committee Member

Robert Cox


Three of the most notable English women authors, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, and George Eliot, explore similar themes of the individual, particularly the young woman, in relation to a hierarchical, patriarchal society, more specifically a crumbling paternalist society. My focus is on three Victorian novels' representations of society's transformation from a paternalistic nature to one of greater individualism; and in particular, I explore how women defined for themselves positions of power within these structures. So this study is twofold, one on representations of gender and the other of class; for the two are inseparable in discussing power relationships of Victorian women. Austen, Bronte, and Eliot understood and, to some degree, accepted the pervasive paternal values. Their novels, however, do not advocate radical social change; rather, their heroines willingly turn to domesticity. I aim to argue that each author, although dissatisfied with aspects of society, did not desire to radically alter women's role within society. The fictitious lives they created became both a representation and a critique of the ideologies surrounding them. The texts of Emma, Jane Eyre, and Middlemarch are representative of traditional social norms and yet question some of the culture's dominant codes, especially in relation to paternalism and gender. What strikes me about these novels is that although the female characters are limited by society, they are not ineffectual. Rather the authors portray women in control of their lives and able to make choices for themselves within the framework of society. My research includes social, philosophical, and political attitudes of the decades in which each novel was written, as well as personal philosophies held by Austen, Bronte, and Eliot in relation to gender and class and the influence of these philosophies in their art. Finally, my reading of the texts explicates evidences of the culture's and author's attitudes in relation to paternalism and gender.



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