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Virginia Woolf's Rewriting of Victorian Women Writers' Lives

Reus, Anne Maria (2018) Virginia Woolf's Rewriting of Victorian Women Writers' Lives. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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Abstract

This thesis examines Virginia Woolf’s representation of the lives of nineteenth-century women writers in her journalism and essays. I study Woolf’s lifelong engagement with Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë, as well as her sporadic interest in Mary Russell Mitford, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, George Eliot, Mary Augusta Ward and Margaret Oliphant to reveal her enduring engagement with the Victorian period and complicate her famous feminist statement that ‘we think back through our mothers if we are women’. Woolf’s literary criticism has a strong biographical component and often blends discussions of women’s literary works with extensive examinations of women’s historical and social circumstances. It is therefore perfectly situated for an analysis of the continued influence of Victorian biography and gender ideology on her writing. Based on an analysis of Woolf’s engagement with these writers’ rich biographical afterlives, I argue that Woolf’s responses to Victorian ideology are varied and complex, and range from the outright rejection of exemplary domesticity to the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes and limiting definitions of femininity. My thesis establishes that Woolf ignores changing modes of female authorship as well as the increasing professionalization of literature throughout the nineteenth century and instead prioritizes domestic amateur writers. While Woolf’s engagement with early nineteenth-century writers like Austen and Mitford often revolves around an imaginative reconstruction of their lives, her attitude towards later, better-documented writers like Brontë and Eliot is more contentious and demonstrates that Woolf used her predecessors to position herself as a modern woman writer who is not limited by her gender.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Virginia Woolf, biography, life writing, Victorian women writers, feminism, Jane Austen, Mary Russell Mitford, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, Mary Augusta Ward, Margaret Oliphant
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Leeds Trinity University
Depositing User: Ms Anne Maria Reus
Date Deposited: 07 Aug 2018 10:46
Last Modified: 07 Aug 2018 10:46
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/20896

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