"In Maiden Meditation": Readership and the Victorian Girl
Doctor of Philosophy
My project argues that a private, autodidactic model of girls' readership is challenged within mid-Victorian culture, as formal education for girls became more accepted and itself underwent reform. While discourses of public and private spheres dominated Victorian ideology related to women and girls, the schoolroom became an imagined space where larger concerns about the social and political role of women were played out as understandings of the role of reading shifted. I examine the ways that readership and education interacted in the period as the purpose of reading was culturally determined and redetermined. My dissertation uses literary criticism and cultural history to investigate different models of education: fictional and real, formal and informal. Fictional portrayals of girls' reading and their education provides a way to chart changes in the public understanding of what girlhood meant in the Victorian period. While I examine models of readership provided for girls by various authorities, I also use women's and girls' life-writing to shape my understanding of how girls perceived their own reading. My work intervenes in the field of readership studies primarily, complicating current understandings of how girls shaped and were shaped by their literature.
Readership; Victorian girl; Education