The representation of mothers and the gendered social structure of nineteenth-century children’s literature

Anna Cermakova, Michaela Mahlberg

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Abstract

Language has the capacity to create fictional worlds and to describe real-life social structures. In this paper, we explore gendered social structures in a corpus of nineteenth-century children’s fiction. We describe these structures in terms of the frequent nouns with which people in the corpus are labelled. Through a bottom-up categorisation of these nouns into four groups, we find, in line with previous studies, textual evidence of a society that is unequal and that is divided into a private and a public sphere. Our study focuses in particular on mothers, the most frequent character type in children’s fiction. The representation of mothers includes abstract qualities such as a mother’s love as well as concrete behaviours such as mothers taking their children into their arms. Both types of qualities contribute to the depiction of mothers as an anchor point for the private sphere.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119–149
Number of pages31
JournalEnglish Text Construction
Volume14
Issue number2
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 3 Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

Not yet published as of 10/05/2022.

Keywords

  • corpus stylistics
  • gender
  • norms
  • general nouns
  • Victorian literature

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