Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



In Elemental Women of Nineteenth-Century Literature: Revealing Victorian Anxieties through Ecology and Gender, I examine pairings of fictional Victorian women with the four traditional natural elements of air, water, fire, and earth. In this series of three linked essays and an epilogue, I read four female protagonists through an ecological lens, revealing particular anxieties relating to gendered expectations, the imperial conquest, and fluctuations in social status and class boundaries during the Victorian period. My pairings are as follows: Chapter 1, Air and Water: Jane Eyre of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847), combining feminist and ecocritical theories to establish how early Victorian ideals of womanhood were initially pressure tested; Chapter 2, Water: Maggie Tulliver in George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss (1860), showing how Eliot uses elemental rendering of Maggie to critique women’s education and confining marriage laws in the mid-nineteenth century; Chapter 3, Fire: Ayesha in H. Rider Haggard’s She: A History of Adventure (1886), combining ecocritical and postcolonial readings to prove that Haggard uses Ayesha’s fiery elementization to trouble England’s imperial project; Epilogue: Earth: addressing Tess Durbeyfield’s status as personified earth in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) as well as the three previously analyzed novels to demonstrate the opportunities for further study. Examining representations of women as paired with specific elements instead of nature more broadly showcases four separate instances of elementization that function as each author’s outlet for expressing their critiques of the gendered landscape of Victorian England.



Committee Chair

Aronofsky Weltman, Sharon



Available for download on Tuesday, April 02, 2030