Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Talia Schaffer

Committee Members

Anne Humpherys

Caroline Reitz

Subject Categories

Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Literature in English, British Isles | Medical Humanities | Women's History | Women's Studies


Victorian literature and culture, Nineteenth-century novel, Pregnancy, Reading practices, Literary Realism, History of Medicine


This dissertation articulates the tendency of Victorian novels to make legible only the pregnant bodies of immodest characters who transgress gendered ideologies while the pregnant bodies of modest characters tend to go undescribed. Tracing the medicalization of pregnancy and childbirth over the course of the long nineteenth century, my chapters demonstrate the function of moralizing narrative conventions in the representation of pregnancy in mid-Victorian novels, of a self-conscious use of free indirect diagnosis in high-Victorian fiction, and a shift at the fin-de-siècle from pregnancy as a signifier of morality to a symptom of unstable minds. The novels I read closely – Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, Charlotte Mary Yonge’s The Clever Woman of the Family, George Eliot’s Adam Bede and Middlemarch, Elizabeth Gaskell’s Ruth, Sarah Grand’s The Heavenly Twins, Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, and Lucas Malet’s The History of Sir Richard Calmady – demonstrate a canonical and generic range that undergirds my claim that reading pregnancy in the Victorian novel helps us to trace incomplete, diverging, and conflicting narratives hinted at, told, and untold.

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