Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



Blame: Marriage, Folklore, and the Victorian Novel contends that the intersection of folk and legal discourses of responsibility and culpability shapes the way the Victorian novel imagines blame. Recent studies have drawn attention to the importance of official legal discourses such as trial testimony and standards of evidence to the development of narrative form during the nineteenth century. However, by attending to folk modes for establishing blameworthiness in Victorian novels, I show that folk and legal standards of culpability are mutually constitutive. The legal system is designed to identify the culpable in a fixed process – codified in slow-changing statutes – that begins with crime and ends with punishment. The counter-discourse of folklore – by definition constantly changing – distributes blame more widely than the legal system allows. The resulting circulation of blame blurs the distinction between public and private by showing that the stakes of domestic conflicts extend beyond husband and wife, underscoring the communal investment in failing marriages and their symptoms, which include marital violence, bigamy, and adultery. Examining marital conflicts in works by Charlotte Brontë, Anthony Trollope, Rosina Bulwer Lytton, Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, and William Makepeace Thackeray, I argue that the novels conceive of blame not as a single event but as a process of continuous negotiation and redefinition of standards of responsibility, moral agency, and culpability.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Michie, Elsie B.