Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Talia Schaffer

Committee Members

Steven Kruger

Caroline Reitz

Talia Schaffer

Subject Categories

Literature in English, British Isles


darwin, shame, affect study, identity, queer


The dissertation explores shame and how shame shapes identities in the nineteenth century. While many scholars examine Darwin in terms of narrativity, how he attempts to counter the theological language in Victorian evolutionary discourses, and the influences he has on his contemporary writers, I argue that his writing on shame, which is part of his long argument on evolution, secularizes the concept of shame, opposing the notions of many Victorians that shame is God-given. Both God-given shame and secular shame are rooted in sexuality, as this dissertation will show, and thus shame, sexuality, and identity are interconnected. Using Darwin as a springboard, I examine other aspects of shame such as nationalist shame, bodily shame, shame in an industrialized city, shame of minorities, and sexual shame via the books of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Elizabeth Gaskell, John Addington Symonds and Havelock Ellis. They were prolific in the beginning, middle, and end of the century respectively, giving account of how shame evolved through the long Victorian period and how Darwin’s concept of secular shame influenced their narratives. The writers, including Darwin, express their identities in relation to shame differently through their different writing styles, and those who embraced shame even as they were hiding it, produced what we would now call queer writing.