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Dr Courtney Davids

Home country: South Africa

Year of enrolment: 2010

Graduation date: April 2014

Department: English

Supervisor: Ms Jeanne Ellis

Co-Supervisor: Dr Dawid de Villiers

Dissertation title: From Chawton to Oakland: Configuring the nineteenth-century domestic in Catherine Hubback's writing


Abstract: This thesis engages the ideological ambivalence about the nineteenth-century middle-class domestic that emerged at mid-century by focusing on the non-canonical British and Californian writing of a fairly unknown but prolific author, Catherine Hubback, Jane Austen's niece. It explores the tension between ideology and practice in Hubback's writing, and argues that her work simultaneously challenges and endorses the ideal of domesticity. To the extent that it challenges this ideal, Hubback's fiction, in its representation of domestic practice, negotiates class and gender ideologies that play out in the middle-class home. The thesis also traces how her endorsement of middle-class domesticity became more pronounced in the story and letters she wrote after her emigration to California, taking the form of overt criticism of American femininity and domesticity. Hubback's concern with women's position in relation to law and marriage is read within the context of developments in the genre of domestic fiction. My close reading of four novels – The Younger Sister, May and December: A Tale of Wedded Life, The Wife's Sister; or, The Forbidden Marriage and Malvern; or, The Three Marriages – examines Hubback's representation of marital and domestic configurations that are consistently viewed in relation to the social and legal position of women. The novels explore alternative options for women's lives illustrated by their negotiation of the constraints of middle-class womanhood on their own terms; in marriage, or by choosing not to marry. Similarly, my discussion of Victorian masculinity in Hubback's fiction focuses on the concern with moral and industrious middle-class manhood that establishes middle-class values as the definition of proper Englishness. As part of this discussion, I demonstrate how Hubback's fiction reworks middle-class masculinity in order to establish a model for marriage that ensures domestic stability and ultimately the order of the English nation. In the final chapter of this thesis, I continue my exploration of Englishness and domestic ideology by reading Hubback's short story and letters from California. In contrast to the ideological ambivalence registered in the novels, these texts more overtly subscribe to middle-class English values. My reading of Hubback's work for this thesis thus aims to contribute to an understanding of the complex interrelation between ideology, domestic practice and literature in the nineteenth-century.

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