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Influence, Agency, and the Women of England: Victorian Ideology and the Works of Sarah Stickney Ellis


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Influence, Agency, and the Women of England: Victorian Ideology and the Works of Sarah Stickney Ellis

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Title: Influence, Agency, and the Women of England: Victorian Ideology and the Works of Sarah Stickney Ellis
Author: Carlson, Ashley Lynn
Advisor(s): Houston, Gail Turley
Committee Member(s): Hunt, Aeron
Aleman, Jesse
Elliott, Dorice
Department: University of New Mexico. Dept. of English
Subject: Sarah Stickney Ellis
Conduct Manuals
Women's Education
LC Subject(s): Ellis, Sarah Stickney, 1799-1872--Criticism and interpretation
Women authors, English--19th century
Feminism in literature--History--19th century
English literature--19th century--History and criticism
Degree Level: Doctoral
Abstract: This dissertation discusses the works of Sarah Stickney Ellis in the context of Victorian culture and argues that Ellis’s ideas about women, which have frequently been described as “anti-feminist” by twentieth and twenty-first century scholars, were often progressive and even proto-feminist. The first chapter discusses Ellis’s writings on education, where she argues that girls require moral, physical, and intellectual training. This chapter demonstrates that Ellis, though not necessarily radical, is more liberal than she has been given credit for in terms of her educational scheme for women. The second chapter focuses on Ellis’s views on courtships and engagements. Rather than persuading women to become meek and subservient wives, her recommendations for women before marriage clearly demonstrate that women should avoid matches where their own needs will not be met. She warns women away from self-sacrifice and instead emphasizes the importance of finding a man who will be able to fulfill his duties as a husband. Ultimately, she argues that women are better off remaining single than risking an unfortunate marriage. The third chapter focuses on Ellis’s efforts to enlarge a woman’s sphere of influence. Specifically, this chapter investigates the complex layers of rhetoric that Ellis uses to maintain an overtly submissive stance while subversively promoting female empowerment. This strategy, which frames Ellis’s most famous work, The Women of England, imitates the tactics Ellis suggests her readers might use with their husbands and other men. While consistently deprecating both herself and the role of women in general, she paradoxically argues that women are of utmost importance in Victorian society, and even assigns them more power than men. The final chapter examines Ellis’s temperance fiction. This chapter focuses on Family Secrets, a collection of temperance tales Ellis published in 1842. In these stories, Ellis disrupts the ideology of separate spheres by suggesting that this philosophy is a cause of alcoholism. Through stories about drunken men and women, Ellis shows that society’s arbitrary divide between public and private is dangerous. Thus, like her other writings, Ellis’s temperance fiction expands a woman’s sphere into the public arena. Simultaneously, she argues that men must participate in the domestic sphere.
Graduation Date: May 2011
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1928/13004
Item Available: 2017-05-14

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