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'Shades of the prison-house': the disciplining of the Victorian literary orphan

Peters, Laura Lynn (1994) 'Shades of the prison-house': the disciplining of the Victorian literary orphan. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.85968) (KAR id:85968)

Language: English

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The Victorian fictive orphan as an aesthetic trope hypostatises a cultural moment in which the bourgeois ideology of the family attains a socio-political universal status. The thesis considers how the mode of narrating (what I will call the penal narrative) the oprhan in mid-Victorian literature reflects the ideology of the age: this penal narrative is a product of the Grand Narrative of the family which surveys and attempts to neutralise the orphan. This neutralisation manifests itself in the production of orphan fictional autobiographies which are increasingly confessional in nature. The 'Introduction' undertakes to contextualise the fictive orphan in three ways: cultural-historically through a consideration of the rise of the bourgeois ideology of the family; aesthetically through a consideration of Worsworthian Romanticism which fetishised the child; and theoretically through a consideration of Girard's notion of the scapegoat, Althusser's concept of ideology and Foucault's documentation of disciplinary techniques. The first chapter on Victorian Orphan Popular Literature deals with the production of the orphan as trope; establishing the orphan as representative of both a textual attitude and of the discursive regime of the period which articulates this new structure of feeling. This chapter considers how the discourse of orphanhood, in intersecting with other Victorian cultural discourses (especially high culture, religion and popular literature) forms a literary subgenre. The second chapter will analyse Dickens's Oliver Twist and The Old Curiosity Shop in which the orphans function primarily as redemptive child-orphans who do not grow. The third chapter deals with the novels Jane Eyre, Vanity Fair and David Copperfield. This chapter reads these narratives as penal narratives - functioning to neutralise and assimilate the orphan. The resistance offered by the orphan figures arises from their spiritual power inherited from their Romantic aesthetic genealogy. Chapter Four, in considering Villette and Little Dorrit, identifies a shift in the function of fictional autobiographical narrative from the creation to confession. In these narratives the notion of orphanhood is also extended to a socio-political status as Lucy Snowe and Arthur Clenman are orphan outcasts bereft of the family of the nation-state. This chapter also explore to what extent these narratives interpellate the reader into an agent for bourgeois ideology. Chapter Five reads George Eliot's Silas Marner as a hybrid between high art and fairy tale which endeavours to mythologise the notion of family (inh a Barthesian notion of myth). This chapter will form the conclusion of the thesis in its attempt to extend the notion of orphan as a cultural trope and ultimately an imperial trope.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.85968
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 09 February 2021 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Uncontrolled keywords: Victorian Literature; Charles Dickens; Charlotte Bronte; George Eliot; William Makepeace Thackeray; orphans
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of English
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 29 Oct 2019 16:22 UTC
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2022 22:37 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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