Victorian Vapours: Reflections of Ideal Femininity in Colonial Victoria 1860 - 1901

Jennifer Bowes (2011). Victorian Vapours: Reflections of Ideal Femininity in Colonial Victoria 1860 - 1901 PhD Thesis, School of History, Philosophy, Religion & Classics, The University of Queensland.

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Author Jennifer Bowes
Thesis Title Victorian Vapours: Reflections of Ideal Femininity in Colonial Victoria 1860 - 1901
School, Centre or Institute School of History, Philosophy, Religion & Classics
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2011-03
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Dr Martin Crotty
Total pages 322
Total colour pages 17
Total black and white pages 305
Subjects 21 History and Archaeology
Abstract/Summary This thesis examines ideals of genteel femininity that circulated in the Australian colony of Victoria between 1860 and 1901. During this period there was no single, well-defined model of ideal femininity. Rather, it was an ideological concept composed of conflicting expectations, admonishments and advice conveyed to genteel women about how they should feel, think and behave. This study of ideal femininity sheds light on the lives of colonial women, the role of mothers, the place of daughters, and the function of women in the building of the nation. These are important areas of historical investigation not least because the ideology of ideal femininity underpinned all aspects of nineteenth-century middle-class hegemony: to change the concept of the ideal woman was to change, however subtly, the concept of the family, of the home, of what men should be, of how society should function. This thesis seeks the ways that British ideals of genteel femininity were variously transplanted and transformed in the colonial landscape. In particular this study focuses on how the fragile and dependent ideal of the Angel in the House and the attendant figure of the vaporous invalid, forms of genteel femininity with resonance in Britain during this period, achieved only limited currency in nineteenth-century Victoria. A range of colonial conditions contributed to the rejection of these residual forms of genteel femininity, but this thesis attributes the change predominantly to the chronic labour shortage in the colonies. The shortage of available household servants in Victoria ensured that even genteel women were expected to contribute to the domestic labour economy, and as a result, during the latter half of the nineteenth century genteel ideology changed to reflect a new acceptance of health, vigour and adaptability for genteel colonial women, and a concomitant rejection of weakness, frailty and dependence. This thesis posits the new labour demands as the cause of broad changes to genteel women’s behaviour, expectations and habitus. This study examines this shift in ideology in regard to genteel women generally, but more specifically in reference to four distinct groups of genteel colonial women: governors’ wives, clergy’s wives, governesses and middle-class Australian girls. These groups of women were all highly subject to expectations of ideal femininity, expected to live up to a predetermined version of how women should be and also compelled to act as exemplars to other genteel women. This analysis is informed by records left by these women themselves, which reveal their struggle to live up to definitions of ideal femininity, as well as the myriad versions of ideal femininity presented to these women by colonial society.
Keyword ideal femininity, vapours, genteel, colonial, victoria, labour
Additional Notes Colour pages: 7,47,57,58,77,85,101,102,103,117,134,177,204,211,227,229,251

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Created: Tue, 18 Oct 2011, 16:27:38 EST by Miss Jennifer Bowes on behalf of Library - Information Access Service