English and American Literature
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Chair and Committee
This dissertation investigates the lively interchange between Victorian literature, the science of language, and liberal politics. I argue that Victorian authors used language-science, the study of the origins and nature of human speech, as a powerful model for engaging the diminishing status of hereditary rule and the rise of popular sovereignty. Philologists and natural scientists presented a new understanding of language as a self-enclosed, evolutionary system. This autonomy of language, in turn, mirrored Victorian Britain's emerging liberal society, with its emphasis on self-governance and laissez-faire economics. While previous scholars have characterized Victorian language-science as depoliticized and reactionary, I show how works by Thomas Carlyle, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Alfred Tennyson, and the lesser-known but fascinating Darwinian poet Mathilde Blind draw on language-science to explore the redistribution of political power in the age of reform.
Barrow, Barbara Ann, "A "Living Political Dialect": The Science of Language and the Victorian Epic Impulse" (2014). All Theses and Dissertations (ETDs). 1283.
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