"Bodies in Transit: Mobility, Embodiment and Space in the mid-Victorian Novel"
Mentor: Professor Jackie Labbe
My doctoral thesis focused on narratives of mobility in the mid-nineteenth century novel, analysing journeys within and between England and Europe in novels of the period 1845-65 by Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot, and Mary Braddon.
The thesis asserts that in an era of capitalist modernity that effected immense transformations to spatial experience and conceptualisation, bodies in transit are situated as a powerful representational mode through which to understand, and mediate the effects of, the capitalist production of space.
The theoretical context for this analysis is provided by the fields of critical geography, feminist geography, and recent studies into mobility and travel; the intersection of these fields constructs a new theorisation of mobile embodied subjects. The theorisation of an embodied, mobile subject marks an original theoretical intervention, drawing together fields that have to date remained separate in their concerns.
The thesis demonstrates how textual representations of bodies can be read through this critical lens to provide a more complex theorisation of the relationship between the body and space. Following an initial chapter that explores the changing understanding of space in the mid-nineteenth century, subsequent chapters take a different context of travel as the focus of study. Walking in the English countryside and the city (with focus on Adam Bede, Jane Eyre, and Villette) draws out issues of gender, mobility, and anti-modernity; journeys across European spaces (Little Dorrit, Villette) explore nationality and anxieties about the stability of British place in a contracting global space; and railway journeys (Dombey and Son, Lady Audley’s Secret) position anxieties of modernity at the forefront of concern.
The significant contribution of this thesis lies in its positioning of journey passages as central representational sites in the mid-nineteenth century novel. The thesis demonstrates how reading mobility provides a significant shift in perspective through which to re-read familiar literary texts.