“Unhistoric” Individuals in the Provincial Novel

  • Helen Kingstone
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture book series (PNWC)


Chapter 8 continues the previous chapter’s analysis of retrospective novels by women writers: Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley (1849), Elizabeth Gaskell’s “My Lady Ludlow” (1858–59), and George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1871–72). It argues that by focusing their narratives on provincial communities, these novelists reveal undercurrents invisible to national narratives. All three novels depict “unhistoric acts” by woman protagonists. Brontë gives voice to female yearnings for transcendence, and highlights the inadequacy of the historical record. Gaskell uses multiple narrators to subvert the pontifications of a conservative aristocrat, and to challenge the definition of a historical event. Eliot uses the influential character Dorothea Brooke to problematize her own notion of the “unhistoric” individual. These writers are more radical in gender than class terms, but they all successfully rewrite contemporary historiography.


Female Character French Revolution Previous Chapter National History Woman Writer 
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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Helen Kingstone
    • 1
  1. 1.Leeds Centre for Victorian StudiesLeeds Trinity UniversityLeedsUnited Kingdom

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