"The sturdy good old stock" : Englishness, class and gender in mid-Victorian England
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
The dominant construction of Englishness in the mid-nineteenth century simultaneously manufactured and reinforced middle class, masculine social power. This ideology was not stable and all-encompassing, but open to resistance and renegotiation. My thesis examines the ways in which the novels of two middle class women-whose social position located them both outside the dominant discourse and ambivalently within it-reveal resistance to and complicity with the dominant social power. The construction of Englishness in the first novel, Charlotte Bronte's Villette, almost always promotes middle class social power, yet it radically rearticulates the gender roles within that discourse. Bronte is aware, however, that this conception of female Englishness is only possible outside England. Her feminist vision is also moderated by her inability completely to resist the ideology of separate spheres. Englishness in Under Two Flags, the second novel examined in this thesis, is even more complex. On one hand, it follows a middle class, masculine trajectory whereby the novel's protagonist must leave the corrupt and effeminate aristocratic world in order to assume an English identity. On the other hand, Ouida's enthusiasm for the aristocracy leads her at the same time to imagine an Englishness that advances aristocratic social power. The qualities that construct Cecil's middle class Englishness are thus also used to signify his nobility. Ultimately, nobility and middle class Englishness cannot satisfactorily be reconciled, and nobility in the text becomes a source for resistance to not just middle class, but masculine social power. Ouida's female characters provide further evidence of the tension between the desire to resist and reinforce the dominant gender ideology. Cigarette, overtly transgressive, is both criticised and praised. The novel pretends to position the Princess Venetia as the proper English alternative, but this is undermined elsewhere in the text.