‘The Song of the Pen’: Popular Romantic Literature 1839-1889

Deedman, Cheryl. 2014. ‘The Song of the Pen’: Popular Romantic Literature 1839-1889. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

Nineteenth-century entrepreneurial publishers exploited the opportunity presented by lower print production costs and higher rates of literacy to produce a proliferation of cheap romantic fiction in the form of penny-a-part novels, fiction-carrying penny periodicals and penny novelettes. Some of these had vast circulations, and it is possible that as many as half of all working-class women regularly read romance stories. The content of penny romance stories published between 1839 and 1889 has been little studied. Cultural historians have successfully used ‘quality’ literature to understand the social, moral and intellectual attitudes of a given period or group, recognising that it can both reflect, as well as reinforce, a culture. This thesis takes the same approach with this popular literature.

Nineteenth-century penny romantic stories are formulaic. They have common themes and plotlines: in a usual story the heroine becomes separated from her family or is orphaned and is without the ‘protection’ of a parent or older relative. She meets a hero, but she faces many trials and dilemmas before they can be united. Her most important role is to protect her virtue and reputation. Those who behave appropriately are rewarded with marriage and a ‘happy ever after,’ those who don’t are punished, usually dying unpleasantly.

This thesis examines how the penny publishing industry developed, who the key producers were and what influenced them. It examines the clear messages penny romantic fiction contained and the role they played in the construction of gender roles. Women are told to be passive, to remain in the domestic sphere and to aim to become wives. I argue that these stories played a strong role in perpetuating patriarchal structures and the subordination of women.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

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Victorian literature, working-class reading, gender construction

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29 July 2014

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Date Deposited:

01 Aug 2014 14:16

Last Modified:

06 Sep 2022 22:08



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