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Bodies in transit : mobility, embodiment and space in the mid-nineteenth century novel

By Charlotte Eleanor Mathieson


This thesis focuses on narratives of mobility in the mid-nineteenth century novel, analysing journeys within and between England and Europe in novels of the period 1845-65 by Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Mary Braddon. I locate bodies in transit as crucial representational sites asserting that, in an era of capitalist modernity effecting immense transformations to space, mobile embodied subjects provide a locus through which spatial readjustments are mediated. The theoretical context for this analysis is provided by the fields of critical geography, feminist geography, and recent studies into travel and mobility; the intersection of these fields constructs a new theorisation of mobile embodied subjects. I read textual representations of bodies through this critical lens, using literary analysis to develop a more nuanced theorisation of the relationship between the body and space. The first chapter explores the changing production and understanding of space in the mid-nineteenth century, following which subsequent chapters each focus on a different travel context. Walking in the English countryside and the city (with focus on Adam Bede, Jane Eyre, and Villette) centres on issues of gender, mobility, and modernity; journeys across European spaces (Little Dorrit, Villette) explore anxieties about nationality and the stability of British place in a contracting global space; and railway journeys (Dombey and Son, Lady Audley’s Secret) position anxieties over modernity, and its implications for the human subject, at the forefront of concern. Through this analysis, I situate mobility as occupying a central position in midnineteenth century literature: a significant representational principle that is fundamental to the internal structures of novels and their interactions with wider cultural contexts. The thesis demonstrates that reading novels through spaces of mobility provides a perspective through which to significantly reorient our understanding of familiar literary texts

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