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Title: George Eliot's generative economies : transactional maternal sacrifice in social realist fiction, 1853-1894
Author: Charman, Helen
ISNI:       0000 0004 9348 3725
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2019
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This project argues for a reconsideration of the importance of the maternal body in mid-to-late nineteenth-century social realist fiction, taking George Eliot’s work as its primary case study. Using recent work in sacrifice studies as a framework, I illustrate the ways in which maternal sacrifice underpins canonical Victorian narrative structures. The thesis draws on historical advancements in obstetrics and gynaecology, political economy, and Freudian psychoanalysis: these interlocking contextual strands combine to question the received idea that the pressures of the new industrial age created a divide between the public, masculine workplace and the feminine, domestic domain of the home. As the novel became increasingly concerned with an explicitly capitalist system of value, the figure of the mother became symbolic of the commodification of care; thus, the reproductive bodies of the female protagonists in these novels are embedded in a complex value system in which their idealized virtue is directly related to their economic function as producers, compounded by the patriarchal structures that obstructed female sexual autonomy. The thesis begins with an introduction that uses George Eliot’s Scenes of Clerical Life (1858)—three narratives of complicated reproduction—to establish its theoretical and contextual concerns, before moving to a consideration of Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss (1860) alongside Elizabeth Gaskell’s Ruth (1853). It then reads Daniel Deronda (1876) as a proto-Freudian fragmentation point for the novel form, before turning to an analysis of infanticide in Adam Bede (1859). The final chapter reads George Moore’s rewriting of these Victorian stories of taboo maternity in Esther Waters as a pathbreaking text in the renegotiation between representation and realism that came to define twentieth-century fiction. Published in 1894 and continuously revised until 1930, Esther Waters straddles the changing century, and so demonstrates the importance of maternity to this broader paradigm shift: the illegitimate mother survives, and the bodies sacrificed to the text are those of the father and, ultimately, the imperial soldier son.
Supervisor: Schramm, Jan-Melissa ; Abbott, Ruth Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: George Eliot ; Motherhood ; Psychoanalysis ; Political economy ; Social realism ; Elizabeth Gaskell ; George Moore