Date Thesis Awarded

4-2019

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)

Department

English

Advisor

Kim Wheatley

Committee Members

Deborah Morse

Kathrin Levitan

Suzanne Raitt

Abstract

Victorian sensation novels often engage with investigation as a narrative subject and also a narrative activity. Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, and Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret all use themes of investigation to form social critiques. Situated within their sensational narratives lie commentaries on political, sanitary, and legal reform; the rights of married women; and the treatment of the mentally ill. Such problems are shown to be the cause of widespread societal decay which transforms the world of each novel into the “corpse of a dead society,” in the words of Joseph Hillis Miller. By considering the realist and gothic elements of the sensation genre, the metaphor of the body politic, and the topical concerns to which Dickens, Collins, and Braddon were responding, this study reads the novels in question as surprising but compelling pieces of social criticism.

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