“Novels with a Purpose”; The interventionist literature of Dinah Mulock Craik and contemporary domestic legislation

Masters Thesis

Duffield-Fuller, Elizabeth Margaret. 2018. “Novels with a Purpose”; The interventionist literature of Dinah Mulock Craik and contemporary domestic legislation . Masters Thesis Canterbury Christ Church University School of Humanities
AuthorsDuffield-Fuller, Elizabeth Margaret.
TypeMasters Thesis
Qualification nameM.A. by Research.

Dinah Craik’s interventionist literature aimed to promote a progressive agenda in female-centric domestic legislation. However, to maintain her respectable female reputation, she utilised conservative ideals and arguments. She capitalised on contemporary debates around essential femininity, maternity and the problems of inherited evil to argue for women’s property rights, adoption rights and the repeal of the Deceased Wife’s Sister’s Marriage Act. Her work exposed the gap between the legal framework and women’s lived experiences. It also exposed the difference between women’s private, invisible lives and the public perception of them which informed male discourse and legal debates, accentuating issues of influence versus power and questions of agency within this debate.

The intermingling of class and gender is a key theme in Craik’s work. She equated the position of women of all classes with the position of working-class men under the law, particularly in terms of reification, being transmuted into property and owned. Women, Craik argued, share a common bond of sisterhood which transcends class, and this thesis examines the way in which the universality of femininity is questioned and constrained in light of the subjugations of male-made laws. Craik particularly examines the universality of femininity within the confines of inter-related identities. Though she does not reject the notion of inter-related identities, Craik places them within a hierarchy in order to argue for reform.

There is a tendency to appropriate Craik as a feminist writer despite her disavowal of female suffrage. This thesis examines the complicated way Craik viewed female rights, especially critiquing the level to which she examined her own social biases, and absorbed the ideology and social expectations of the society she lived in. Finally, it questions the level to which the dissonance between her avowed conservatism and the message her story conveys was deliberate and effective in reform.

KeywordsDinah Craik; class and gender; essential femininity; female rights;
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Deposited05 Nov 2019
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