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Title page for ETD etd-07182013-134432

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Freeman, Heather Elizabeth
URN etd-07182013-134432
Title Marketing "Proper" Names: Female Authors, Sensation Discourse, and the Mid-Victorian Literary Profession
Degree PhD
Department English
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Carolyn Dever Committee Chair
Jay Clayton Committee Member
Jim Epstein Committee Member
Rachel Teukolsky Committee Member
  • professionalization
  • branding
  • gendered marketing
  • onymity
Date of Defense 2013-05-16
Availability unrestricted
This dissertation explores the unstable concept of the “proper” name and how mid-Victorian female authors strategically used their legal names to market themselves as professional writers in order to gain and maintain economic security. The names of women authors carry multiple meanings, including legal signature, linguistic/textual sign, brand name (in the case of celebrity authors), familial/ancestral marker, and, particularly for sensation authors, potential scandalous disguise. The newly hybridized sensation genre emerged in England in the 1860s as a crystallization of numerous socio-legal and economic anxieties, particularly about gender and identity. The ideology of “separate spheres” and the gendered distinctions between public and private work and identity construction were breaking down with the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857, which led to increased publication of private sexual affairs via divorce court coverage, as well as the slow but steady entry of women into the professional sphere, particularly the literary profession. I argue that during the mid-Victorian period, proper names functioned as the ultimate sensational trope, particularly for women: they provided easy, straightforward identification and self-definition—the ultimate signifier of patriarchal inscription—while also being always unstable, changeable, and alienable. For female authors, authorial names become shorthand narratives. Their names gained momentum, separate from these original authors’ intentions, once they entered the literary market as celebrity signifiers and brands, becoming encoded with an array of overlapping, contradictory narratives. In the process, the circulation of these names reconceptualizes the literary profession. This project examines the nominative narratives of a select group of celebrity authors, from “Queen Victoria” and “the Hon. Mrs. Caroline Norton” to “Mrs. Henry Wood,” “Mrs. Oliphant,” and “Mary Elizabeth Braddon.” Their names de- and reconstruct categories of gender and identity in an array of interpenetrating social structures, including legal discourse, the family unit, and the economic market, calling attention to the discursive nexus operating between sensation, professionalization, and gendered celebrity during the mid-Victorian period.

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