Date of Award

2021

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in English

Department

English

First Advisor

Carolyn Betensky

Abstract

The preoccupation with reproduction in Victorian literature has, by and large, received little critical attention. This dissertation seeks to contribute to Victorian scholarship and examines the representations of reproduction in Victorian literature in relation to the contemporaneous desire for progress. Adopting a historiographical approach, this dissertation analyzes five Victorian novels: Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, George Eliot’s Middlemarch, George Du Maurier’s Trilby, Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, and Sarah Grand’s The Heavenly Twins. In this dissertation, I demonstrate the different ways in which these Victorian novelists explored, accommodated, and concretized the Victorian desire for and pursuit of progress through the trope of sexual reproduction in their works. More importantly, this dissertation complicates Lee Edelman’s theoretical work on reproductive futurism and explicates the limitations of this concept in Victorian context. Edelman’s postulation about reproductive futurism in heteronormative cultures, I contend, does not fully account for the ways the Victorians understood reproduction. Situating these Victorian novels within the popular scientific discourse of the nineteenth century, this dissertation shows that the reproduction of population in Victorian England did not necessarily equate to the affirmation of the future but could have meant exactly the opposite, whereas checking the reproduction of certain types of the population was thought to be an effective solution which would ensure the evolution of humankind and the progress of the nation.

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