Redemptive Portrayals of the Fallen Woman in Nineteenth Century Sensation Fiction Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Rigby, Hannah Lacey Bryant
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
  • A study of portrayals of fallenness in the nineteenth-century sensation novels, including those written by Wilkie Collins, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, and Ouida, my dissertation locates the genre of sensation fiction front and center in allotting its heroines--bigamists, prostitutes, and the divorced--a potential for redemption unavailable to their counterparts in realist fiction. Novels became best-selling sensations because of their risqué subject material, predominantly their positioning of women in places of power, even sexual power; content--which created a sensation in the titillated reader--became synonymous with this literary form. The sensation novelists were under no compunction to reiterate overwrought clichés to argue for a correspondence between sexual purity and moral goodness like their more conventional and canonical counterparts. I argue that because sensation novels allow sexual and powerful women admission into the institution of marriage, all the while insisting their fallen heroines' moral fitness to be wives, the novels actively challenged Victorian ideals of femininity and female virtue and in doing so became a crucial component in the unmasking of nineteenth-century sexual hypocrisy.
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  • Langbauer, Laurie
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Graduation year
  • 2011

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