Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



The theatre of the Victorian era is often ignored in literary studies or denigrated when it is discussed. This project, however, seeks to provide a framework within which we can explore the power of Victorian theatre as it responded to and shaped ideas in London between 1848 and 1882. Looking specifically at how these theatres adapted material already situated within the ideological context of the period, I argue that the adaptations of three major Victorian novels highlight the ways in which minor theatres engaged with the genres often considered high art and used that material to create new meanings for an often ignored sub group--the working class. In particular, I investigate multiple adaptations of Charltote Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton, and M.E. Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret for what the adaptation can reveal about how these playwrights conceptualized class relations.

These adaptations exist within a series of relations--to the original novel, to the history of the theatre, to the audience, and to the conversations occurring when they were performed. Some of the theatres were popular houses like the Old Victoria or the St. James, while others were relatively small and obscure like The Globe in Newcastle Street and the Queen’s, and each had a distinct relation to the larger society and social discourse of the era. I contend that these plays reveal the ways in which seemingly disparate conceptions of class in the Victorian era in fact interacted in these theatres as the playwrights appropriated the conversations concerning paternalism in the 1840s and 50s, the push for social reforms in the 1860s, and the ways in which society defined a “gentleman” in the latter part of the century in order to create new versions of class relations for the working classes. This project seeks to examine the voices speaking for and to the working classes in the theatrical conversations of the mid to late Victorian years and how these theatrical adaptations crafted narratives of the Victorians that worked in relation to but simultaneously against much of the public discourse concerning class and specifically the working class.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Weltman, Sharon