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Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program

English and American Literature


English (en)

Date of Award


Degree Type

Restricted Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This study investigates how images of saints, suppressed in Protestant England since the sixteenth-century Reformation, returned to popularity in the nineteenth century, entangling femininity in metaphors of sainthood and providing sites upon which Victorians waged wars over issues of gender. A first chapter investigates the appearance of saints in diverse Victorian cultural forms, including painting, architecture, gardens, stained glass, poetry, prose and prose fiction. It interrogates the history, rhetorical power, and literary contributions of hagiography, and claims that the way saints became linked with femininity was a peculiarity of the Victorian era. The next three chapters read how saints worked to construct femininity in three Victorian classics: Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market , Charlotte Bronte's Villette , and George Eliot's Middlemarch. Looking at both lives and letters, these chapters demonstrate how the authors used saints to organize and unify their works in ways that protested and revised the hagiographic self-fashioning domestic ideology prescribed as scripts for Victorian women. These chapters enlist Melanie Klein's theories of the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions to explain splitting as a defense that at least partially resulted in the sexism Christina Rossetti, Charlotte Bronte, and George Eliot endured as women and to provide insight into what each author's saint writing expressed about her experience. Julia Kristeva's Kleinian elaborations are also used to translate Villette 's depiction of melancholia as at least partly a consequence of the segregation of Victorian women. An afterward traces the image of the woman as saint in late Victorian and Edwardian literature as it waned as domestic paragon and emerged as Saint Joan of Arc, the primary symbol of British female suffrage. It claims the works of literature Rossetti, Bronte, and Eliot wrote helped to forge women's political solidarity, foster desire for mutuality with men, and stimulate demand for full citizenship that arrived as first wave feminism. The study concludes that although cultural interpellation and self fashioning are intertwined processes, in creating new fantasies of womanhood, Victorian writers changed womanhood itself.


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