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My Research

The Female Philanthropist and the Victorian Text 1838 - 1894


My thesis pursues the presence of the female philanthropist across a range of Victorian texts, beginning with the legacy of Hannah More's writings for early Victorian conceptions of the philanthropic woman and ending with Mrs Humphry Ward's Marcella. By reading the female philanthropist's different textual appearances in fiction, tracts and biographies alongside each other, my project explores the ways in which the figure contributed to changing constructions of class and gender in Victorian literature.


The project divides into three sections, which reflect the different periods in the relationship between the Victorian text and female philanthropy.


Part One: The 1830s, '40s and '50s

The first three decades of Victorian female philanthropy were marked by the transition from small-scale benevolence to a more professional version, as women adapted the earlier examples of women such as Hannah More to grant themselves a new legitimacy in the public sphere. 

Chapter One: Hannah More's Victorian Legacy: Henry Thompson's The Life of Hannah More: with Notices of her Sisters and Frances Trollope's The Life and Adventures of Michael Armstrong, Factory Boy
Chapter Two: 'Charity is the Calling of a Lady; the Care of the Poor is her Profession' - Women, Work and Philanthropy in Charlotte Bronte's Shirley and Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South 


Part Two: The 1860's and '70s

Part Two examines the complex interaction between religion and sexuality for the female philanthropists of the 1860s' and '70s, as the rise in 'rescue' work of 'fallen women' along with the emergence of the sensation novel and inform and problematise the philanthropic heroines of the period. 

Chapter Three: 'Given to Self-Mortification' - Religion, Sexuality and Female Philanthropy in Rhoda Broughton's Not Wisely But Too Well and George Eliot's Middlemarch


Part Three: The 1880s' and '90s

Part Three investigates two literary and philanthropic relationships - that of between the social investigator Clara Collet's short story 'Undercurrents' and George Gissing's Workers in the Dawn, and between Beatrice Potter's article 'Pages from a Work-Girl's Diary' and Mrs Humphry Ward's Marcella. The texts of the fin-de-siecle offer a more nuanced depiction of the female philanthropist, which emphasises her fluctuating social authority at the end of the Victorian era. 

Chapter Four: The Spectre of Degeneration - Clara Collet's 'Undercurrents' and George Gissing's Workers in the Dawn  
Chapter Five: 'Governing and Guiding Women' - The Changing Sphere of the Female Philanthropist in Beatrice Potter's 'Pages from a Work-Girl's Diary' and Mrs Humphry Ward's Marcella 

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