Date of Award

2003

Degree Name

English

College

College of Liberal Arts

Type of Degree

M.A.

Document Type

Thesis

First Advisor

Sherri Smith

Second Advisor

Katharine Rodier

Third Advisor

John Young

Abstract

This thesis explores Victorian sensation fiction and key authors who rely on essentialism, employing the classifications of either angel or demon to their literary female figures. Using Nina Auerbach's theories on these above categorizations and Helene Cixous's linguistic binaries, I examine the ways in which the narrators of Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret, Sheridan Le Fanu's Uncle Silas, and Wilkie Collins's Heart and Science force this taxonomy onto the female villains who dominate the novels' themes. By looking closely at the narrative strategies, I conclude that these female characters themselves are proposing a very different sense of self or persona from what the narrator desires us to see. Because of these tensions between narrator and their female villains, I argue that the characters' own dialogue calls into question essential and inherent traits that Victorian authors and critics alike have prescribed for these literary figures. While Braddon employs a narrator who first forces the reader to see an angel and then a demon, and Le Fanu's narrator highlights her own prejudices as well as enforcing a demonic persona onto the female villain, Collins's narrator exaggerates his definitions to such an extent that the villainous woman in his novel takes on a masculine-identified personality and an inhuman aspect, catapulting her out of the angel-demon binary altogether. Therefore, not only do the binaries of angel-demon warrant examination, but also those of human-inhuman and male-female. In addition, I look at the ways in which the authors work their characters back into a rigid and rational binary system, and those authors who might actually create characters and narrators that get out of control, thus perhaps unconsciously constructing a female figure that has intense subversive potential.

Subject(s)

Villains in literature

English literature - 19th century - History and criticism

Demons in fiction

Angels in literature