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Serialisation, Settings, Characters: a comparative case study of gender roles in society, as addressed in selected novels by Thomas Hardy, Henry James, and Edith Wharton

Alfares, Wafaa (2016) Serialisation, Settings, Characters: a comparative case study of gender roles in society, as addressed in selected novels by Thomas Hardy, Henry James, and Edith Wharton. PhD thesis, University of Essex.

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Abstract

The principal concern of this thesis is the extent to which male and female characters in Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native (1878), Henry James’s The Europeans (1878) and Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence (1920) succeed in contributing to, or halting, the processes of change in their respective societies of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In combination, these three novels provide a particularly apt opportunity to look at issues of gender and social change at specific points in time, and within a transatlantic context, through the representation of attitudes and actions by individuals within the narratives. The study is divided into three chapters, an introduction and a conclusion. Each chapter addresses one novel through three main areas of enquiry that aim to build a detailed understanding of the role of gender in the relevant social settings. The first area of study concerns the serialisation of the novels, with attention to the visual imagery that accompanied the texts in the case of Hardy and Wharton. The illustrations which accompanied the first, serialised versions of The Return of the Native and The Age of Innocence disclose concealed themes. They also provide added insight into the expectations of the period. The second area of enquiry explores the setting of each novel: Egdon Heath in Hardy's English west-country Wessex, Boston for James and New York in the case of Wharton. Those settings are discussed in relation to historical indicators within the works, including public gathering places which are portrayed as points of social pressure. A study of characterisation in the novels concludes each of the three chapters. The focus is on individuals, representing certain social categories, that are either struggling to attain a degree of autonomy over their lives or trying to maintain a status quo that would enable them to keep their social position. The conclusion brings into the thesis a conversation about technical devices and further contextual considerations that the three authors deployed in order effectively to portray how men and women of their respective societies reacted to changes at different levels of their everyday lives. A main contribution to knowledge in this study lies in the examination of serialisation and the use of illustrations in light of the role of gender in social change. Despite cultural differences between the American and the British societies portrayed , Hardy, James and Wharton as major authors of their time share a number of concerns about male and female interactions within vastly changing societies. Furthermore, this investigation aims to establish an example that might prompt future comparisons of more global writers from different periods and parts of the world; in particular, asking how they differently reflect change in diverse social contexts.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
P Language and Literature > PS American literature
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities > Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies, Department of
Depositing User: Wafaa Alfares
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2016 12:23
Last Modified: 10 Nov 2016 12:23
URI: http://repository.essex.ac.uk/id/eprint/17836

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