Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Jil C. Larson

Second Advisor

Dr. Shirley Cray Scott

Third Advisor

Dr. Philip Egan


In reading Victorian fiction through an ethical lens, I am attentive to questions of what constitutes the good, loving, w ell-lived life. It is my contention that Victorian writers turned to fiction - specifically, the rapidly emerging novel form - to explore the ethical implications of being in love, and the problem s occasioned by erotic love. The writers I examine modify the basic Aristotelian search for a specification of the good life for human beings: they used novels as testing grounds for the ethical question, "How should one love?"

My study of 19th-century British fiction reveals a strain of novels deeply interested in examining the ethical implications of love relationships, in putting forth alternative and nontraditional love stories, and in expanding conventional notions of what constitutes a love plot. In my examination of Anne Bronte's novels, I explore the Victorian courtship customs that preclude empathy and intimacy be tween men and women, and particularly between coquettes and their "honest" counterparts. Next I study the philosophical and aesthetic ideals that act as defenses against love in Henry James' The Ambassadors and The Portrait of a Lady, and in Joseph Conrad 's Lord Tim. The following chapter is devoted to the novels of George Eliot; I contend that she is unmatched in her love plots that transcend the possibilities of traditional love, and in her suggestion that different kinds of love — later or second love, paternal love, unrequited love — can compel powerful transformations. Finally, my treatment of unrequited love and its redemptive capacity is more sustained in my discussion of Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities.

All of the novelists I include in this stud y investigate the ethical potential of alternative love plots. In the cases of Bronte, James, and Conrad, love's ethical potential is more often defenred than fulfilled, .whereas Eliot and Dickens are more morally optimistic; love in their novels not only redeems its participants, but diffusively enhances the common good of the surrounding

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access