Date of Degree

9-2021

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.A.

Program

Liberal Studies

Advisor

Tanya Agathocleous

Subject Categories

Literature in English, British Isles

Keywords

Nineteenth Century, Victorian Literature, Textiles, Object Studies, Orientalism, Domestic Spaces

Abstract

This thesis argues that the fabrication of Asianness in Victorian literature is indebted to the subtle, yet frequent gestures, habits, and interactions that occur in the literary works of Elizabeth Gaskell and Mary Elizabeth Braddon. By specifically focusing on Gaskell’s North and South (1855) and Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret (1862), I explore a methodological approach for literary studies that is capacious enough to reckon with the material histories and materiality of race that pervade the cultural imagination of an eighteenth and nineteenth century England. Queer of color criticism by scholars like Sara Ahmed and meditations on aesthetics, race, and culture by Anne Cheng, Lisa Lowe, and Sabrina Strings inform this critical rethinking of the role that textiles, fabrics, and fibers play in this cultural imagination, alongside the multitude of ornamental objects beginning to adorn white Victorian bodies and homes. Such a rethinking, I conclude, offers a different perspective on what scholars have seen as liberatory gestures on the part of white Victorian women. Rather, these subtle gestures, moments, and efforts to regulate the circulation of everything from silk dresses to tea-cups to the representation of Asian and Black bodies and people might be better understood as the pursuit of women’s legitimate empire.

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