Jezebel's Daughters: A Study of Wilkie Collins and His Female Villains

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The term "feminist," when applied to Wilkie Collins, implies he was concerned with rectifying the oppression of women in domestic life as well as with promoting equal rights between the sexes. This study explores Collins the "feminist" by analyzing his portrayals of women, particularly his most powerful feminine creations: his villainesses. Although this focus is somewhat limited, it allows for a detailed analysis of the development of Collins's attitudes towards powerful women from the beginning to the end of his career. It examines the relationship between Collins's developing moral attitudes and social beliefs, on the one hand, and the ideas ... continued below

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Colvin, Trey Vincent August 2000.

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  • Colvin, Trey Vincent

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Description

The term "feminist," when applied to Wilkie Collins, implies he was concerned with rectifying the oppression of women in domestic life as well as with promoting equal rights between the sexes. This study explores Collins the "feminist" by analyzing his portrayals of women, particularly his most powerful feminine creations: his villainesses. Although this focus is somewhat limited, it allows for a detailed analysis of the development of Collins's attitudes towards powerful women from the beginning to the end of his career. It examines the relationship between Collins's developing moral attitudes and social beliefs, on the one hand, and the ideas of Victorian feminists such as Josephine Butler and feminist sympathizers such as John Stuart Mill, on the other. This interaction, while never overt, reveals the ambivalence and complexity of Collins's "feminist" attitudes. Of the five novels in this study, Antonina (1850), Basil (1852), Armadale (1866), Jezebel's Daughter (1880), and The Legacy of Cain (1889), only one was published at the zenith of Collins's career in the 1860s. Each of the villainesses in these novels, their ideas and experiences, are crucial to understanding Collins's "feminist" impulses. Looking at them as powerful women who detest domestic oppression, one becomes aware that Collins feared such powerful women. But at the same time, he found something fiercely attractive about them. One also realizes that he was never fully capable of breaking the prevailing literary conventions which dictated that wickedness be punished and virtue rewarded (The Legacy of Cain is perhaps an exception, depending on how one views Helena's feminist revolution). The reading of Collins's novels offered in this study presents a broad, eclectic approach, utilizing the tenets of a number of different theoretical approaches such as new historicism, psychoanalytic criticism, and deconstruction, as well as feminist criticism. It contextualizes Collins's novels and his "feminist" concerns within the framework of other contemporary feminist ideas and the critical responses his works received.

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  • August 2000

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  • Sept. 25, 2007, 9:07 p.m.

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  • Jan. 15, 2014, 1:41 p.m.

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Colvin, Trey Vincent. Jezebel's Daughters: A Study of Wilkie Collins and His Female Villains, dissertation, August 2000; Denton, Texas. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc2581/: accessed July 15, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; .