Secrecy in Victorian fiction

Sherer, Susan Ellen, Department of English, University of Virginia
Chase Levenson, Karen, As-English-Eng Lit Ops, University of Virginia
Booth, Alison, As-English-Eng Lit Ops, University of Virginia

My dissertation situates itself at the intersection of childhood and secrecy in Victorian fiction, both children's fiction and adult fiction. I address many of the reasons why the association of childhood and secrecy is so charged. The nineteenth century discovers childhood as a legitimate category of perception; so childhood has been something of a secret, an unexplored terrain. The child's mind, for the adult gazer, is.often either a place of edenic bliss, lost forever and therefore secret to the adult, or a Pandora's box of evil secrets, or a disturbing admixture of both. Furthermore, childhood is the time of revelation, of decoding secrets necessary to getting on in the world. Finally, children create secret worlds to which they retreat with fascination as well as fear. This ambivalence about secrecy creates instabilities that make it so perfectly narratable, so ripe for the friction that initiates story. Each chapter then focuses on various instances of this instability.

In the first chapter on Lewis Carroll I define what qualities a narrative must hatch in order to produce secrets, thus establishing a grammar of terms that will gather richness and clarity with each succeeding chapter. One of the crucial conclusions that I make in this first chapter is that secrecy, as its etymology makes clear, implies secretion, parting, which in turn implies lost contact, which in another turn, implies some desire or at least possibility for return. Secrecy then, in abstract terms, begins the search for identity, which in literature inevitably becomes the story of a journey homeward, or a return.

The second chapter addresses Dickens' Hard Times and A Tale of Two Cities. The third chapter examines Andersen's "The Princess and the Pea," Housman's "Rocking-Horse Land," and Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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