Domesticity, Imperialism, and Emigration in the Victorian Novel

Domesticity, Imperialism, and Emigration in the Victorian Novel

Domesticity, Imperialism, and Emigration in the Victorian Novel

Domesticity, Imperialism, and Emigration in the Victorian Novel

Synopsis

During the nineteenth century, as hundreds of thousands of British citizens left England for the New Worlds, hearth and home were physically moved from the heart of the empire to its very outskirts. In Domesticity, Imperialism, and Emigration in the Victorian Novel, Diana Archibald explores how such demographic shifts affected the ways in which Victorians both promoted and undermined the ideal of the domestic woman. Drawing upon works by Elizabeth Gaskell, Anthony Trollope, Samuel Butler, Charles Dickens, Charles Reade, and William Makepeace Thackeray, the author shows how the ideals of womanhood and home promoted by domestic ideology in many ways conflict with the argument in favor of emigration to imperial destinations.

A rather predictable pattern emerges in almost every Victorian novel that encounters the New Worlds: if an English hero is destined for a happy ending, he either marries an English angel-wife and brings her with him to the New World or, more often, abandons thoughts of settling abroad and returns to England to marry and establish a home. This pattern seems to support the supposedly complementary ideologies of domesticity and imperialism.

The literary texts, however, reveal much ambivalence toward this domestic ideal. Female emigrants were desperately needed in the colonies; thus, a woman's imperial duty was to leave England. Yet her womanly duty told her to remain an untainted idol beside an English hearthside. The domestic ideal, then, seems to have been more in conflict with imperialistic ideology than heretofore supposed.

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