Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in English



First Advisor

Carolyn Betenksy


Throughout the long nineteenth century, characters in novels are often described as being like siblings to other characters. Frequently, such sibling-like characters end up being the protagonist’s most desirable marriage partner. While older literary criticism assumed that such coding was meant to invoke themes of incest, more recent scholarship has begun to investigate how such characters can inform our understanding of the dramatic historical shifts in family structure and alliance (from the biological to the conjugal), as well as changes in what motivated and validated marriages. In either case, the scholarship assumes that the reference to siblinghood places unrelated characters on a spectrum of biological or legal relation to one another. This dissertation addresses a gap in scholarship created when the sibling-like relationship is elided by a discussion of the sibling. I argue that the sibling-like is a distinct category warranting its own investigation. Because it is both ambiguous and ambivalent, the sibling-like moves beyond existing dichotomies of incest vs. celibacy. It complicates seemingly distinct categories such as familiar vs. other and brother vs. sister. It empowers protagonists to secure marriages that are egalitarian partnerships, and marks anxieties surrounding the consequences of colonialism. Through textual analysis of novels by Charlotte Smith, Charlotte Yonge, Sarah Grand, Charles Dickens, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Emily Brontë, and Thomas Hardy, I demonstrate that the sibling-like character is a common trope used throughout the long nineteenth century to question the constructs and boundaries of family, gender, desire, and genre.



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