Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Master of Arts


Faculty of Arts


In an analysis of six novels published in the nineteenth century, the thesis examines the changing role and portrayal of the 'individual' in Victorian fiction. Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1813) and Emma (1816), George Eliot's Middlemarch (1872) and Daniel Deronda (1876), and Thomas Hardy's Mayor of Casterbridge (1886) and Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891) are analysed in depth. The discussion focuses on how the social and historical context shapes the development of theme, character and plot in the novels, especially focusing on literary conceptions of character as an individualistic being within the wider framework of society. The emphasis is on the characters' engagement with their society, and how the portrayal connects with the social and historical context. The development of the novel as a literary form is examined in the light of literary history. The thesis discusses the relationship between recorded history and the development of literary characters. It analyses how the concept of the individual evolved: how the process enacted itself from traditional identity to one which is slowly revealed and unfolded within the text. It investigates the differences between the ideas of character identity as a given property, or identities which are formed and developed throughout the course of the novel in their historical context. The characters' relationships to their social worlds and its demands, and the process by which a character acquires subjectivity and involves him or herself in the social life of the society is investigated, in the light of the rapidly changing Victorian society. The eighteenth-century social inheritance is established, locating the origins and catalysts of change and how the nineteenth-century society's immediate ancestors fanned, and were fanned by, their social world. The sociological and historical framework of the Victorian world is examined and related to the portrayal and development of individuality. A vital consideration is the pervasiveness and rapidity of social change in the nineteenth century, to an extent previously never experienced by any society. The progression and effects of this change through the century are interpreted through the writers' portrayal of individuals. The tidal movement of ideas between progression and traditionalism, between character and fate will be charted through the century. The thesis questions how much freedom of choice, or the illusion of it, affects the unfolding concept of the individual.