Date of Award

1998

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Elsie B. Michie

Abstract

In the Victorian novels of this study, Coincidence and Class in the Victorian Novel, coincidence is an unacknowledged paradigm for class mobility. Its role for the most part unremarked, coincidence moves money and property into the hands of the protagonist, allowing the transition between classes to take place. In Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and Villette, and Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White, coincidence is a paradox in that it accomplishes two very different ends, resolution and conflict, simultaneously. As a narrative device, coincidence camouflages narrative gaps, arranging resolution within the text by allowing improved class position; as a narrative strategy, it conversely exposes contextual, social conflicts, forcing an acausal, ideologically-conforming resolution that demonstrates the unlikelihood of self-determination by a bourgeois protagonist. In these novels, coincidence is variously encoded with imperialism, ethnocentrism, and patriarchy, all of which serve to establish the nationalistic model by which the protagonists are measured. Rather than challenging the unlikely interference of a benevolent Providence that involves itself in human events, these novels have coincidence serve as a catalyst for narrative events that reinforce British nationalism and its existing class system. As a strategy of authority and class reinforcement, coincidence ideologically compromises the nineteenth-century novels since property and money, often obtained in ethnocentric/imperial efforts that feed the nation, are filtered back into society so as to uphold hierarchical divisions of class associated more closely with pre-Industrial, two-tiered society--aristocracy and non-aristocracy--than with the bourgeois myth of an ever-broadening, accessible ruling-class. Lower-class bourgeois ideals and the integrity of the bourgeois novel as a vehicle for the independent protagonist who earns a position in the ruling class, or who earns the right to self-determination, are threatened, as the middle-class protagonist is incorporated into, and feels justified in achieving, a position in the landed gentry.

ISBN

9780591766714

Pages

210

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