Victoria's feminist Legacy: how nineteenth-century women imagined the queen

Ulrich, Melanie Renee
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"Victoria's Feminist Legacy: How Nineteenth-Century Women Imagined the Queen" examines Victoria's impact on the development of early feminism. Although her vehemently expressed anti-feminist sentiments have come to dominate the Queen's reputation, during her life her persona as a public and politically active woman inspired other women to reassess their beliefs about what women could do or be. This dissertation explores how the works of Victorian women writers, artists, and thinkers testify to the Queen's feminist influence. Chapter 1, "The Commercial Queen: Intimations of Feminism," explores how Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Letitia E. Landon, and Caroline Norton balanced public anxieties and expectations regarding the monarch at the outset of her reign with the radical and disruptive potential she possessed. Chapter 2, "The Personal Queen: 'There Ain't Any Slave But Has Some Freedom,'" shows how a more matronly Victoria later fostered an "affective feminism" that allowed ordinary women who were not politically active to appropriate some of the Queen's empowerment, as depicted in Emily Eden's Semi-Detached House (1859), Sarah Orne Jewett's "The Queen's Twin" (1910), and Lady Charlotte Milles's photomontage of Victoria and the Waleses (1870s). Chapter 3, "The Royal Mother: Queen Victoria and her Daughters," documents the elder Princesses' participation in early and proto-feminist movements: those who grew up accustomed to strong female authority became active and influential women in their own rights and promoted the empowerment of other women. Chapter 4, "The Feminist Queen: 'The Magnificent Example of her Life and Character,'" expands on the tendency of more moderate feminists, like Millicent Garrett Fawcett and Emily Crawford, to put Victoria to more emancipatory uses than did radicals like Olive Schreiner. Chapter 5, "The Conservative Queen: Victoria as Stealth Feminist," considers how conservative thinkers like Margaret Oliphant and Marie Corelli interpreted the Queen in their commentaries about her at the turn of the century. In spite of their resistance to many advanced constructions of femininity, their depictions of Victoria's life sound at times surprisingly like modern feminism. In this way, Victoria's greatest feminist legacy may have been her subversive allure for the adversaries rather than the allies of early feminism.