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Narrative patterns of illegitimacy and infanticide in the nineteenth-century novel

Emery, Caroline Patricia 2007. Narrative patterns of illegitimacy and infanticide in the nineteenth-century novel. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.

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Abstract

This thesis is concerned with the relationship between illegitimacy and infanticide as it is negotiated and explored in predominately nineteenth-century texts. It discusses illegitimacy and infanticide not just as themes but also as engendering narrative patterns that are powerful within their own cultures and which change over time and may often reappear in different periods but shaped by new issues and attitudes. While the examination of patterns of illegitimacy and infanticide concentrates on a chronology that begins with Frances Burney's Evelina (1778) and Jane Austen's novels, discussion at times necessarily reaches back further to the eighteenth century where narratives of foundlings and of female sexual transgression are common, in order to provide an historical and literary context against which the impact of changes in social, legal and moral attitudes on literary and non-literary treatments of the consequences of sexual transgression may be judged. All the principal texts explored are written in English and published in Britain. Illegitimacy is a disruptive presence in Victorian fiction both in a real sense---the existence of illegitimate children in society represents a challenge to authority---and in a symbolic sense: illegitimacy can work as an effective metaphor for social exclusion and 'Otherness'. Cultural representations of illegitimacy and infanticide are subject to change over time and are not fixed absolutes. Examining this slippage, the multiple ways in which different eras construct illegitimacy and infanticide, often building on previous patterns, can offer an illuminating insight into prevailing anxieties. The narratives examined in this thesis reveal tensions and even contradictions in the conceptualization of illegitimacy and infanticide. It takes as one of its starting points an interrogation of the assumption in both literary and historical treatments that illegitimacy is a 'natural' antecedent of infanticide. The principal methodology of this thesis involves the use of close and sustained textual analysis to reveal narrative patterns as they relate to illegitimacy and infanticide. What a narrative pattern means for the purposes of this study involves not simply identifying an established template, such as the eighteenth-century foundling narrative, and examining its relevance and significance to nineteenth-century texts in which illegitimacy occurs. It might also be applied to elucidate narratives where neither literal illegitimacy nor literal infanticide ostensibly disrupt the dominant story. It is an argument of chapter one, for example, that Austen invokes the pattern of the exiled fallen woman and associations with seduction, exile and illegitimacy on the borders of the privileged dominant narrative in order to 'haunt' or refigure the foregrounded plot, and to suggest tragic possibilities that are, ultimately, eluded. Chapter two considers historical attitudes towards, and legislation for, illegitimacy. It argues that legislative provisions and their official justifications themselves express narrative patterns. It examines a range of historical sources, including texts associated with the 1834 Poor Law legislation, the records of the Coram Foundling Hospital, and accounts of infanticide trials held at the Old Bailey. Chapter three revisits the key narrative patterns identified in chapter one as the foundling narrative and the seduced maiden narrative, in its discussion of their later treatment in Ruth (1853) and Adam Bede (1859). It explores the use of the seduction narrative both in a disciplinary function and as a means to interrogate conservative social responses to illegitimacy. The final chapter deals with novels, which, in important respects diverge significantly from established narrative patterns. It shows novelists such as Wilkie Collins and Thomas Hardy explicitly questioning authoritative structures of law and morality, yet the approach here is one that assumes that it is also inevitable that other fictions will never be wholly monologic but will be found to debate, implicitly if not explicitly, rather than simply reflect, contemporary conditions and concerns.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Status: Unpublished
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
ISBN: 9781303182389
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 30 March 2016
Last Modified: 10 Jan 2018 01:44
URI: http://orca.cf.ac.uk/id/eprint/55709

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