Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Jonathan Allison


My dissertation, Understanding the Gray:Aging Women in Victorian Culture and Fiction, explores the cultural construction of aging for middle-class Victorian women and how aging was experienced and then depicted within novels. Chiefly, I work from midcentury to the end of the century in order to understand the experience of aging and ways women were ascribed age due to their position in society as spinsters, mothers, and progressive women. I explore how the age of fictional women reflects and contributes to critical debates concerning how Victorian women were expected to behave. Debates over separate spheres, how women were perceived in British society, and how women’s rights changed during the 19th century highlight how aging affected women and how they were treated throughout the century. Victorian fiction illustrates the ways women achieved different roles in society and how age and the perception of age affected their ability to do so. Understanding how aging was experienced, understood, and ascribed to Victorian women who fought in various ways for new terms of citizenship and mobility helps us begin to trace how we treat and respond to aging in women today. The first chapter outlines the social status of unmarried women and spinsters, considering how age affected women’s ability to lead professional lives in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette (1853). The second chapter, on George Eliot’s Felix Holt: The Radical, explores older motherhood through Mrs Transome and illustrates how the novel seeks to teach younger women of the pitfalls of unequal marriages. The third chapter builds a cultural understanding of how aging was linked to progressive, anti-domestic womanhood and racial impurity through the New Woman and in H.R. Haggard’s She.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)