Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Todd Thompson, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Tanya Heflin, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Michael T. Williamson, Ph.D.


This dissertation examines nineteenth-century British and American fiction by women authors treating domestic abuse: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Mauleverer’s Divorce, Bessy Conway, Lost and Saved, Fettered for Life, Ishmael, Self-Raised, and Jupiter Lights. These novels show the unmanliness of male abusers, warn readers about the fiction of romantic notions, speak against the “angel in the house” ideology, illustrate women’s legal vulnerability, and offer examples of gender-bending advocate figures. Although other scholars have not made this classification, my analysis shows that literature dealing with domestic abuse shares similar concerns with more recognized reform-oriented literature categories while providing unique plots, characters, and situations and, thus, deserves a name of its own. By examining contemporary newspapers and information on laws, I show how these novels are representative of their historical period and can provide further insight into many facets of womanhood. Although domestic abuse can involve a victim or abuser of either gender, for the purposes of this study, domestic abuse or domestic violence is examined from the context of men who abuse their female partners. In order to get at the heart of the many ways that a man can abuse a woman, I have chosen to apply modern definitions or types of abuse as a means of assisting modern readers in understanding differences between the types of abuse (physical, psychological, emotional, legal, and economic) that these authors share. These modern definitions provide a useful means of organizing the different types of abuse that these authors illustrate and the common effects that they have on the characters. Finally, I consider the impact that these works can have on modern classrooms by initiating conversations on domestic abuse and sexual assault. My goal is twofold. This project is descriptive in that I want to show how authors use similar plots and characters to discuss abuse, in order to help build a potential canon of what domestic violence fiction looks like. This dissertation is also analytical in its investigation of how these women authors talk about domestic abuse and what these authors intend with their inclusion of abuse scenes and abused women.