Graduation Year


Date of Thesis Acceptance

Spring 5-7-2013

Major Department or Program



Sharon Alker


Beginning with Mary Wollstonecraft’s groundbreaking A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, my thesis demonstrates the way in which Romantic Period women writers use the maternal to reinterpret contemporary constructs of femininity, ending with Jane Austen’s Persuasion as the closest, though perhaps unexpected, successor of Wollstonecraft’s ideas. The importance of mothers to society at large allows these authors to use women’s traditional maternal role to present radical ideas. They argue that, because women are mothers, they should not be constrained by detrimental societal constructs of femininity, and the negative effects of such problematic ideals, when placed on mothers, impact society as a whole. Moreover, the social significance of mothers means that no divide between public and private spheres, which would place restrictions on women’s agency, can actually exist. Ultimately, motherhood, with its immense control over the bodies and minds of developing individuals, presents a kind of societal importance not open to men. Taken to its ultimate extension, the capacities inherent in the supposedly private role of the mother might contain a significance and utility to the public sphere even more valuable than what is possible in male professions.

Page Count


Subject Headings

Women writers, Femininity in literature, Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) -- Vindication of the rights of women, Edmund Burke (1729-1797) -- Philosophical enquiry into the origin of our ideas of the sublime and beautiful, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) -- Emile, Jane Austen (1775-1817) -- Persuasion, Jane Austen (1775-1817) -- Mansfield Park, Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849) -- Ennui, Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849) -- Belinda, Mary Hays (1759 or 1760-1843) -- Emma Courtney, Maternal behavior -- Feminine body, Whitman College -- Dissertation collection 2016 -- Anthropology Department

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