Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



This study examines the relationship between female education and punishment in the British novel of the fin de siécle. It considers the “New Woman” (the emancipated, intellectualized, and unmarried prototypical feminist appearing in late nineteenth-century culture) in light of how female education affects fictional characterizations of her. Female education in the “New Woman” and her fictional counterparts worked to destabilize class and gender hierarchies for Victorian Society, producing anxiety in its culture and texts. To defuse this anxiety, authors frequently demonstrated the consequences of espousing the feminism driving the “New Woman” and the education producing her. The education she desired/received caused her undue difficulty and lead to her punishment and suffering. In some cases, the punishment represented in late nineteenth-century texts was extreme enough to take the form of narrative masochism, this study arguing that such narrative strategies were employed predominantly by authors who came from punishing educational backgrounds themselves. Thus, exploration of these texts uncovers a literature of containment that attempts to suppress potentially subversive feminist narratives. The literary origins of punishment for the “New Woman” in the works of George Eliot, Charlotte Brontë, and Mary Wollstonecraft establish a precedent for a more intense punishment in later nineteenth-century texts, the phenomenon intensifying as the Victorian Period progresses. This dissertation focuses on its appearance in the works of Ella Hepworth Dixon, George Gissing, Grant Allen, Olive Schreiner, and Thomas Hardy. However, it also recurs in contemporary narratives and culture as late as the end of the twentieth century. Because literature shapes culture as well as reflects it, these narratives inevitably serve to repress not only the female characters of these literary works, but the women of the society that produces these texts. Using a new historicist approach that incorporates feminist history and theory, educational history, and psychoanalytic theory, Using the Rod: Education, Punishment, and the New Woman in fin de siécle British Literature offers insight into the contentious relationship between British fin de siécle society and the educated female of the period.



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Committee Chair

Elsie B. Michie