“That mighty maternal love which makes […] little women matches for very big adversaries” : the matrilineal heritage of Louisa May Alcott and Christina Rossetti

Flint, Azelina Joan (2019) “That mighty maternal love which makes […] little women matches for very big adversaries” : the matrilineal heritage of Louisa May Alcott and Christina Rossetti. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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Abstract

The Matrilineal Heritage of Louisa May Alcott and Christina Rossetti is an unprecedented socio-cultural comparison that exposes and redresses critical preoccupation with the authors’male associates in the Transcendentalist and Pre-Raphaelite movements by re-orienting attention to the unpublished life-writing of their female relatives. The thesis unpacks the influence of the Romantic construction of “genius” on critical assessments of both women, which have often evaluated their literary outputs in light of what I call an “ideology of individualism” that privileges the vocation of the artist above all societal obligations. I demonstrate that both women resisted the ideologies of individualism promoted by their male associates, in order to affiliate themselves with “theologies of renunciation” that were developed by their female relatives.

Part I, “Matches for very big adversaries”, explores Alcott’s and Rossetti’s critical discourses surrounding the ideologies of individualism that were championed by the Transcendentalists and Pre-Raphaelites. Section I, “But a flint holds fire”, stresses the authors’ agency in rejecting the models of artistic identity promoted by both movements by foregrounding their debates with their male relatives in private correspondence and autobiographical writings. Section II, “Behind a Mask”, considers how Alcott and Rossetti adopted ingenious strategies for challenging the movements’ objectification of the female muse in their pseudonymous and posthumously published works. It compares Alcott’s feminist assessment of Hawthorne’s critique of the figure of the “marble woman” developed by the Transcendentalists, with Rossetti’s interrogation of her brother, Dante Gabriel’s, preoccupation with the dead beloved.

The second part of the thesis, “That mighty maternal love which makes […] little women”, recovers the matrilineal heritage of Alcott and Rossetti, tracing its presence in both unpublished and canonical works. Section I, “Left-handed societies”, uncovers the literary networks of the Alcott and Rossetti women in unpublished and posthumously published lifewritings to argue that family matriarchs, Abigail Alcott and Frances Rossetti, encouraged their daughters to conceive artistic identity as formulated through identification with others. Section II, “A Loving League of Sisters”, unearths the influence of the Alcott and Rossetti women in the authors’ canonical works, focusing on how the values of their mothers are propagated in fictional sisterhoods that use art as a means of both combating social injustice and achieving divine communion. The thesis concludes by demonstrating that the sisterhoods of the authors’ public writings promote the theologies of renunciation that were championed by their female relatives—stressing the importance of relinquishing the solipsistic pursuit of genius, in favour of achieving communion with the wider female community and a fuller revelation of God.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Art, Media and American Studies
Depositing User: Gillian Aldus
Date Deposited: 15 Oct 2019 13:31
Last Modified: 15 Oct 2019 13:31
URI: https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/id/eprint/72606
DOI:

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