Skip to main content
Kent Academic Repository

Clothing the body: Representing femininity in Victorian narratives of selfhood

Puri, Tara (2010) Clothing the body: Representing femininity in Victorian narratives of selfhood. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94592) (KAR id:94592)

PDF (Optical Character Recognition (OCR) of this thesis enables read aloud functionality of the text.)
Language: English

Download this file
[thumbnail of Optical Character Recognition (OCR) of this thesis enables read aloud functionality of the text.]
Official URL:


This thesis looks at the women who inhabit Victorian literature, focusing on the ways in which they are represented as well as the way in which they choose to represent themselves. I argue that this self-definition takes place consciously, and that Victorian heroines often choose to display their selfhood through sartorial austerity. Through resisting the inclusion in a scopic economy where worth is judged by appearance, these women make their choice of clothing a highly expres­sive medium for registering a critique of reading subjectivity through appearance, and the critique of a society where women’s bodies are constant loci of scrutiny. But it is also a choice that reveals their unease with their own sexuality, their struggles with their desires, as well as their attempts to exert control over their bodies. They instead manage to create a private space within a public mode of expression, a space from which to resist societal pressures.

The dressing room then becomes a significant site for the creation of female identity, as well as a certain kind of feminine intimacy. A room privileged as uniquely feminine, it provides the privacy for female friendships. Also central to this self-creation is the mirror, a fraught terrain where contemporary anxieties about women are relocated. But in numerous novels, this is not just a site for vanity and duplication of identity, but also for self-reflection. The thesis concludes with an examination of the literary representation of hair, its polysemic mean­ings, and its autonomous expressive quality. The writers focused on are Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot, Wilkie Collins, Mary Elizabeth Brad- don, Thomas Hardy, Christina Rossetti, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning. The paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt also provide a dou­ble narrative to these literary representations.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Edmond, Roderick S.
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94592
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 25 April 2022 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 (
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of English
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 01 Sep 2022 14:02 UTC
Last Modified: 01 Sep 2022 14:03 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

  • Depositors only (login required):

Total unique views for this document in KAR since July 2020. For more details click on the image.