A Woman's Worth: Gendered Concepts of Value in Victorian Literature and Culture
Harvey, Margaret Patricia
Doctor of Philosophy
“A Woman’s Worth: Gendered Concepts of Value in Victorian Literature and Culture” examines how Victorian ideas and thinking about value intervened and intersected with the debate about and depiction of the Woman Question. I identify the second half of the nineteenth century as the setting for a crisis of value, where concepts of value were being formulated and revised in almost every sphere of life—economic, material, religious, political, and cultural. At the same time, activists and writers were grappling with the Woman Question, which asked what rights, responsibilities, and roles Victorian woman should have. I argue that these issues became intertwined for mid-Victorian authors, who staged the crisis of value and the woman question as essentially linked: what makes a woman valuable and what is the nature of her value? Conventionally, the answers were found in the marriage plot and depended on exchange value, i.e. the traffic in women. Many Victorian authors critiqued this formulation of value, revealing how little control women were given over their fate. Some authors were compelled to go even further and imagine alternative value systems that were more equitable and empowering for the women in their novels, and, potentially, their female readers. My three chapters each examine how authors used a particular register of value to both depict the problem with female value and experiment with new and potentially progressive models.
Victorian; value; marriage