Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

May, Brian

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of English


This project contributes to the growing field of feminist food studies by examining Victorian women’s relationships to food. I argue that beginning at a young age Victorian middle-class girls and women had to learn to regulate their appetites and eating as a way of performing “proper” Victorian femininity. Chapter one explains why the Victorian period, the middle-class, and women are apt subjects for a feminist food studies exploration of literature and culture. The second chapter discusses non-fiction advice literature that includes guidance about how middle-class girls and women should eat and control their bodies as part of their performance of femininity. Chapter three examines children’s literature: Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871), Juliana Horatia Ewing’s “Amelia and the Dwarfs” (1870), Christina Rossetti’s Speaking Likenesses (1874), and George MacDonald’s “The Wise Woman, or The Lost Princess: A Double Story” (1875). The chapter highlights how Victorian children’s literature taught girls to control their appetites and monitor their bodies to appear properly feminine. Chapter four explores two of Elizabeth Gaskell’s novels, Cranford (1851-3) and Wives and Daughters (1866). Gaskell represents an important example of a Victorian author who addresses middle-class women’s education about food and eating and who depicts, and often critiques, the performance of femininity through food. Chapter five explores food and gender at the end of the Victorian period with a discussion of one of Sarah Grand’s New Woman novels, The Beth Book (1897), which demonstrates the continued importance of food at the end of the century to the performance of New Woman femininity. The conclusion offers a discussion of the need for further research and a review of how Victorian ideas regarding food and femininity have lasted into the twenty-first century. Overall, this project reveals how Victorian women, who wanted to demonstrate their morality, class, and angel in the house status, learned to use food as part of their performance of femininity and continually monitor and maintain this performance from childhood through adulthood.


236 pages




Northern Illinois University

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