And Everything Nice: Girls, Aggression, and the Nineteenth-Century British Novel.
Abstract: This dissertation investigates the aggression variously expressed by
and directed at girls in several nineteenth-century British novels. In doing so, it traces
the girl's doubled role in the novel and nineteenth-century culture as a socio-historical
subject position and a trope for failure and contradiction that certain novelists map onto
this subject position. The girl's highly ... read moreelastic subjectivity stretches in age and sex,
bringing into question the assumption of a clearly-bounded human subject and thus vexing
the nineteenth-century novel's promissory cover stories of developmental progress and
replete personhood. I argue that Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, and George
Eliot each use the girl in distinctive but related ways to indicate fissures in dominant
literary and cultural narratives and to figure discrepancies in their most cherished
novelistic preoccupations. As a means of illustrating this latter point, every chapter
considers (through texts including letters, illustrations, and autobiographical documents)
the similar behaviors and fascinations of particular girl characters and their authors,
drawing out the writers' concerns with their own repetition of the girl's affective,
ethical, and pedagogical failures and successes. These novelists interrogate the sacrosanct
Victorian values of maturity, self-abnegation, usefulness, and sympathy through the figure
of the girl, whether in her dexterous capacity for deploying covert aggression or in the
abject sentimentality of her uselessness and naïveté. The girl's niceness--her socially
prescribed selflessness, purity, and tractability--like the girl herself, is a doubled and
sometimes duplicitous thing. She encapsulates and complicates the nice distinctions between
unadulterated goodness, self-consciously well-mannered conduct, and noxious banality that
the nineteenth-century novel cannot quite uphold.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Tufts University, 2011.
Submitted to the Dept. of English.
Advisor: Joseph Litvak.
Committee: Sonia Hofkosh, Lee Edelman, and Rosemarie Bodenheimer.
Keywords: Literature, Gender studies, and Women's studies.read less