Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
First Committee Member
Kelly J. Mays
Second Committee Member
Anne H. Stevens
Third Committee Member
Fourth Committee Member
Number of Pages
In "The Late-Victorian Romance Revival" (2008) Anna Vaninskaya questions if "one [can] even speak of the mixing or hybridization of genres in a particular work if the genres themselves had not yet been conclusively defined" (60). This question serves as a warning to genre studies scholars seeking to tease out new observations from history. This dissertation, however, seeks to do just that. Employing multiple theoretical approaches, my study of what I dub the tales novel finds links between diverse Victorian works. Bearing a resemblance to a collection of stories, with seemingly disparate narratives, the tales novels also demonstrate plot interdependence. I argue that this structural tension highlights a similar tension during the Victorian period between individualism and essentialism that in some sense we still maintain today.
This Victorian paradox lies at the crossroads between increasingly unstable masculinity, a cultural emphasis on gender difference, and, to borrow a term from Adrienne Rich, compulsory heterosexuality. These novels raise the questions "how am I to be different?" and "if men and women are so different, why should we marry?" This study demonstrates the ways in which these works respond to these questions in their very structure, plot, narration, modal awareness, and publication.
Despite their popularity during an era we tend to think of as marriage obsessed, the nineteenth-century novels The Pickwick Papers (1836-37), The Yellowplush Papers (1837-38), Cranford (1851-53), In a Glass Darkly (1872), and The Three Impostors (1895) make up an archive that articulates the still-prevalent view that marriage is static and hence refuses to accept it as plot. These works instead can be read not merely as anti-marriage or failed-marriage plots, which still see marriage as central to all plotting, but as the articulation of a counter energy. This energy represents an alternative to marriage in a return to youth amongst friends. In the nineteenth century the most obvious site of group identity was the homosocial club.
In my focus on the tales novels' elucidation of the contradiction between difference and marriage, I demonstrate the ways in which the language of the club illuminates these novels' organizing principles and logic. This language emphasizes difference in its articulation of the understanding that what is masculine is necessarily indirect, wandering, and hierarchical, and what is feminine is idle, domestic, static, and community-oriented (a point I underscore in juxtaposing the adjectival "wandering" with the nominative "idleness," as opposed to the more parallel "idling"). Feeding on these gender perceptions, these works' popularity on some level attests to contemporary readers' acknowledgment of the illogic of simultaneously proclaiming marriage to be the most important relationship of adult life while emphasizing gender difference.
Investigating the ways in which difference is treated in the club's literary output reveals a critical preoccupation with the marriage plot that neglects other Victorian narratives. Further, because the novels I dub tales novels are hardly ever studied in terms of their relationship to genre, this study helps to contribute to the many extant narratives of the history of the novel by in some cases, such as Mitford's Our Village, expanding the genre's definition and in other cases, such as The Pickwick Papers, questioning it. Ultimately these exercises in treating the undertreated and defining and amending existing definitions through detailed investigation contribute to a more complex picture of literary history, revealing the Victorian novel to be more heterogeneric and less heteronormative than previously believed.
Clubs in literature; Fiction genres; Heterogeneric; Homosociality; Marriage in literature; Marriage plot; Nineteenth-century fiction; Plots (Drama; novel; etc.); Tales novels; Victorian novel
American Literature | Arts and Humanities | Linguistics | Literature in English, British Isles | Literature in English, North America | Modern Literature | Sociology
O'donnell, Molly C., "Wandering, Idleness, and the Nineteenth-Century Tales Novel, 1836-1895" (2015). UNLV Theses, Dissertations, Professional Papers, and Capstones. 2401.
Available for download on Thursday, May 15, 2025