Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Ryan, Tim

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of English


British literature; Irish literature; American literature


This thesis focuses on Jessie Redmon Fauset's Plum Bun: A Novel Without a Moral and it's modification of Victorian textual antecedents to critique Dickensian Heteronormative Proprietorship. This proprietorship served as prevalent model for racial uplift in nineteenth and early-twentieth century African American culture, emphasizing Victorian bourgeois womanhood and the familial unit as essential markers of respectability. Charles Dickens's David Copperfield depicts the formation of this ideology as a means for the titular character to redefine himself against socio-economic hardship and uncertainty. Plum Bun reconfigures this novel as a passing narrative, and introduces race as an additional socio-economic barrier which impedes Mattie and Angela's shared pursuit of self-possession and autonomy. In doing so, Plum Bun emphasizes David Copperfield's inherent contradictions, namely David's participation in the same systemic oppression that he aims to escape. As another Victorian antecedent, Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market" depicts the imposition of Dickensian Heteronormative Proprietorship on women, particularly through mandated domestic femininity, regulated female sexuality, and women's exclusion from the public sphere, along with the male-dominated poetic tradition. Fauset's novel, originally titled "The Market," employs the form and function of Rossetti's poem, both in terms of its fairy tale frame and modification of textual antecedents (especially the Edenic imagery from Milton's Paradise Lost). Through African Americanizing essential elements of Rossetti's poem, Plum Bun illustrates this ideology's power to impose itself on women across generational, geographical, and racial boundaries. Plum Bun 's reconfigurations of each text challenge traditional dismissals of Fauset's work, illustrating its intellectual rigor, complex engagement with African American culture, and critique of the same elitism that critics often accuse it of perpetuating.


Advisors: Tim Ryan.||Committee members: Brian May; Diana Swanson.||Includes bibliographical references.


48 pages




Northern Illinois University

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