19th century girls' literature : stories of empowerment or limitation?
Szabo, Anna Marieke.
Thesis (M.A.L.S.)--Georgetown University, 2009.; Includes bibliographical references. Domestic fiction is a genre of novels that were for girls and young women in the 19th century and revealed the dominant culture in America under which they were written. These novels usually involved sentimental plots and were written mostly by, for and about women. They have been criticized for legitimizing society's restrictive standards for women and reinforcing gender-roles rather than making an effort to change them. This thesis will consider whether 19th century girls' literature reinforced society's limitations for girls or empowered girls to live a more self-fulfilling life within society's standards.; First, this thesis describes the history of children's literature as a genre in America, by looking at its origins and evolution from the colonial period up to the late nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century. It then explains the emergence of the domestic novel and outlines the specific conventions that define it. To gain a deeper knowledge into the lives of the readers of Alcott and other writers of domestic fiction, this thesis shows the typical life of a 19th century (middle class) American girl, her girlhood, teen years, and both the life of a wedded and single young woman, as she is the intended audience for the domestic novel. Then this thesis analyzes the influence of two major writers in the domestic fiction genre, Martha Finley and Elizabeth Wetherell and then introduces the works of Louisa May Alcott, in particular the Little Women series. It is then examined as to whether the stories sent a message of empowerment or constraint to girls and young women. Finally, this thesis will conclude, that based on my research and analysis, that although 19th century girls' literature did in some instances reinforce society's limitations for girls, in general it also empowered girls to live a more self-fulfilling life within society's standards.
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