Gender, Heroines, and Society in Pride and Prejudice and The Mysteries of Udolpho Open Access

Carroll, Colleen (Spring 2021)

Permanent URL:


For centuries, historical narratives have focused on men. While interest in and scholarship on women in history has grown in the past few decades, the gap has yet to have been filled. Even though there is distinctly less historical documentation of women throughout time, there are still ways in which modern scholars can dig deeper into the experience of womanhood in the past. This honors thesis explores the ways in which the novel, particularly the late-Georgian British novel, serves as a crucial source of evidence for historians studying women and the construction of gender. 

The central texts I consider in this thesis are Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and Hester Thrale Piozzi’s Thraliana. I argue that Austen’s and Radcliffe’s novels, by rendering depictions of women’s thoughts and feelings, document aspects of women’s experiences that too often are excluded from the historical record. The Thraliana, Piozzi’s diary that spans the years between 1776 and 1809, confirms and amplifies many of the insights into women’s lives that we find in Radcliffe’s and Austen’s novels. My arguments are in conversation with scholars such Ian Watt, Claudia L. Johnson, Nancy Armstrong, and Julia Epstein. Moreover, I situate my analyses of Radcliffe, Austen, and Piozzi in their historical context through discussions of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century newspapers, periodicals, and advertisements. 

In chapter one, I demonstrate how the interconnections between social convention and literary convention shaped understandings of gender during the period; further, I argue that the emphasis placed on the everyday in the era’s novels makes these fictional texts revealing portraits of familiar, everyday women. In chapter two, I discuss how Radcliffe’s and Austen’s heroines transgress various gender norms and yet still engage an approving readership. Chapter three considers the novel form’s unique ability to minimize the distance between a reader and the fictional heroine; accordingly, I suggest how readers are invited to internalize a desire to question the conventions of gender. Finally, I conclude my thesis by exploring some of the broader implications of using literature as a way to illuminate the history of gender.

Table of Contents

Introduction (p. 1)

1. Forming Late-Georgian Literature: the Novel, Gender, and the Heroine (p. 12)

2. Public Displays: Late-Georgian Heroines’ and Social Convention (p. 28)

-The Public and the Polite (p. 35)

-Public Impropriety (p. 40)

3. The Inside Look: Late-Georgian Novels and the Heroine’s Inner Life (p. 54)

-Internal Perfection (p. 56)

-Private Rebellions (p. 68)

Conclusion (p. 88)

Works Cited (p. 93)

About this Honors Thesis

Rights statement
  • Permission granted by the author to include this thesis or dissertation in this repository. All rights reserved by the author. Please contact the author for information regarding the reproduction and use of this thesis or dissertation.
  • English
Research Field
Committee Chair / Thesis Advisor
Committee Members
Last modified

Primary PDF

Supplemental Files