The thesis offers a historical account of the\ud representation of friendship in the novels of English\ud women writers from the nineteenth century to the\ud present. Questioning the prevalent understanding of the\ud history of women's friendship in terms of a single major\ud rupture, from nineteenth-century 'innocence' to\ud twentieth-century 'guilt', the thesis identifies\ud narrative configurations which recur throughout this,\ud period, and which define friendship as a formative\ud learning experience integrally related to the\ud acquisition of gendered identity. It concludes that\ud there can be no final and 'perfect' representation of\ud friendship, since the nature of the "knowledge' shared\ud has continually shifted in relation to changing\ud understandings of femininity.\ud Chapter 1 identifies the origins and nature of the\ud Victorian concept of the "second self", in which the\ud friend acts as the mirror of, and means of access to, an\ud idealised female subjectivity. Chapter 2 analyses the\ud ways in which this concept informs the narrative\ud patterns and rituals in Victorian fictions of\ud friendship. Chapter 3 offers a new reading of novels by\ud Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot and Charlotte Bronte, in\ud which the conventions identified in Chapter 2 are\ud adapted to question the existing boundaries of feminine\ud identity. Chapter 4 examines the impact of changes in\ud women's education upon the representation of friendship\ud in turn-of-the-century feminist and anti-feminist\ud novels, and in a new genre, the school story for girls.\ud Chapter 5 shows that the scientific construct of\ud lesbianism produced a new distinction between the\ud 'healthy' and the 'unhealthy' relationship, but that the\ud terms of this distinction were contested; in\ud twentieth-century novels of the 'gyriaeceum', the\ud tradition continues, but is newly eroticised. Chapter 6\ud looks at friendship as 'revision' in recent English and\ud American novels, in which earlier configurations are\ud redeployed in the light of contemporary feminist concern\ud to recuperate and re-imagine the past
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