Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Renk, Kathleen J., 1952-

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of English


Women's studies; American literature; British literature; Irish literature


This dissertation argues that stereotypes about the Victorian spinster continue to influence the depiction of the single woman in American and British literature since 1960. Perceived as a threat to heteronormative culture, the single woman protagonist must contend with stereotypes of the "old maid" and the "spinster" that culminate in three characteristics of single woman fiction: that the protagonist is perceived as an object of speculation, that she must answer for her singlehood, and that she should find work caring for a surrogate family. Writers engage in several narrative strategies to deflect, revise, and occasionally reinscribe stereotypes of single womanhood. A protagonist may rely on heterotopic memory to seize authority over her own history and that of the larger culture. She may also engage in the domestic quest narrative, seeking out other women to create a safe space from which they will create and share artistic or intellectual work with one another. The single woman protagonist may even find that in her attempts to retain sexual and economic autonomy from men that she is perceived as a danger to subsequent generations of women. Each narrative strategy underscores the significance of the single woman protagonist, and her connection to the Victorian spinster, to women's literary histories and to novel studies as a whole.


Advisor: Renk, Kathleen.||Committee members: Adams-Campbell, Melissa; Swanson, Diana.||Includes bibliographical references.


186 pages




Northern Illinois University

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