Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Sharon Aronofsky


This study examines the residual paternalist ideology in three canonical Victorian texts: namely, John Ruskin's The Nature of Gothic, Charles Dickens's Hard Times, and John Stuart Mill's Autobiography. In exposing an epistemological tension between paternalist and liberal beliefs---especially a putative concern for the working class---that exists in these texts, this discussion concludes that not only are the cultural forces of benevolent authority insidious in Victorian culture, but that the paradoxes that emerge in these texts may reflect a public ambiguity toward the prevalent structures sustaining Victorian paternalism. The three texts examined inscribe hierarchical principles---while ironically exposing them---in generally similar ways: through Romantic aesthetics, a "deferential dialectic" (a useful economic model about employer/worker relations), Christian sentiment, and the rhetoric of the sage. By sharing these features of paternalist thinking, the generically diverse works under review maintain a strong intertextual dialogue. To discover the covert paternalism in the texts of three ostensibly liberal reformers reveals how inveterate the habits that constitute deferential politics remain in mid-Victorian England. As eminent cultural sages of Victorian England, Ruskin, Dickens, and Mill engaged in rhetorical strategies with their readers, which, at times, mirrored the dynamic between a manager of a textile Mill and his dependent operative. While trying to identify with their readers, these prophets, at the same time, differentiate themselves by an unwitting hierarchical positioning. To identify the contradictory messages that are embedded in major literary representations of the Victorian period is to better understand how sage marketers, such as Ruskin, Dickens, and Mill, both inherit and perpetuate the paradoxes of Victorian paternalism.