Monstrous Femininities: Elizabethan Influence on Nineteenth-Century Literature
Algernon Charles Swinburne
H. Rider Haggard
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractIn my dissertation, “Monstrous Femininities: Elizabethan Influence on Nineteenth-Century Literature,” I examine how Victorian public perception of Queen Elizabeth as violent and tyrannical affected nineteenth-century texts. Queen Victoria’s ascension to the throne stimulated societal anxieties related to female authority figures, which manifested in a resurgence of “savage” royal women in nineteenth-century literature and art. The royal women in Lewis Carroll’s Alice series demonstrate the monstrous characteristics of hybridity, violence, and contagiousness. Through the dissertation, I track these monstrous features and analyze how Victorians modified well-established Elizabethan tropes. In Tennyson’s The Princess, he uses the Ovidian myth of Acteon to wrestle with the concept of hybridity as well as fears of evolutionary and societal regression. Swinburne combines the heartlessness of the Elizabethan Cupid (as seen in Astrophel and Stella and The Faerie Queene) with Venus’ character in his poems Atalanta in Calydon and “Laus Veneris.” He also “monsterizes” the personified church in order to draw attention to the hypocrisy in organized religion in his poems “Locusta” and “Before a Crucifix”; his methodology is similar to John Donne’s in his poem “Show Me Dear Christ.” Lastly, I argue how representations of the female sublime change radically from the nineteenth to the twentieth century. H. Rider Haggard’s novel Wisdom’s Daughter humanizes Ayesha, a character who was previously described as a part-snake, part-human femme fatale. Through these texts, I establish how major historical motivators such as Victoria’s ascension to the throne and Darwin’s theory of evolution radically affected nineteenth-century depictions of women in power.
Degree ProgramGraduate College