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Title: Choosing to walk at all risks : the symbolic value of female pedestrianism in Victorian literature
Author: Sundharam, Rebecca
Awarding Body: University of Reading
Current Institution: University of Reading
Date of Award: 2011
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Abstract:
The emergence of Romantic poetry in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was instrumental in the cultural redefinition of walking as a worthwhile leisure activity, a source of creative inspiration, and a legitimate subject of literature. By the mid-Victorian period, middle- and upper-class men's walking had become a well-accepted activity. However, women's pedestrianism still remained a morally suspect and culturally loaded act. This dissertation suggests that Victorian literature demonstrates a heightened representational investment in women's walking as 'counter-cultural', which endows women's pedestrianjoumeys with a connotative value beyond that of the purely physical. This value pertains even though the female journeys represented are not the grand walking- tours of the Romantic writers, but everyday journeys of a seemingly mundane or insignificant nature. The first sustained critical study of the symbolic value of women's pedestrianism in Victorian literature, this dissertation argues that women's walking functioned as a versatile trope that allowed authors to explore historically charged questions relating to social mobility; including those of women's vocation, agency, sexuality, transgression, bodily health, socialization, and political emancipation. It argues that the symbolic investment in the embodied act of walking gives further insight into the ways in which Victorian women challenged, subverted, and struggled against the physical and social restrictions designed to contain them within geographically or conceptually knowable boundaries. The thesis examines representations of women's pedestrianism in three generic conventions across mid- to late-nineteenth century. Chapter one investigates the ways in which the female protagonist's choice to walk in the mid-Victorian female Bildungsroman proves to be a rich symbolic as well as literal device for the exploration of the larger questions of women's education, selfhood, and vocation addressed by this genre. Through - _ ,_ _ _ .. --.. --------------..ioiiiiiii~ a close-reading of three sensation novels, chapter two demonstrates that the mobile female body became a useful trope for eliciting fear by positing the threat of unregulatable and disturbing feminine energies. Chapter three studies the ways in which New Woman writing from the 1880s and 90s deployed women's pedestrianism symbolically to celebrate new models of femininity and to articulate a collective desire for emancipation.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID: uk.bl.ethos.558713  DOI: Not available
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