Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of English

Content Description

1 online resource (vi, 143 pages)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Jeffrey Berman

Committee Members

Erica Fretwell, Helen Elam


Early Twentieth-Century Novel, Eliot, Hardy, Woolf, Paradoxes of Intimacy, Paradoxes of marriage, Patriarchal, Victorian Novel, Intimacy (Psychology) in literature, Self-knowledge in literature, Marriage in literature, English fiction

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature


While markers of the passage from Victorian to early Twentieth-century novels abound, none is more pointed or insistent than human relationships. Marriage, one of the important human connections for social, emotional, and spiritual purposes, becomes the dominant theme of the novels of the period. This dissertation addresses intimacy and its paradoxical nature in marriages depicted in Victorian and early twentieth-century novels. It explores how these novels depict marriage and intimacy, and the paradoxes surrounding intimacy that develop from those depictions. Three novels—George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1871), Thomas Hardy’s Tess of d’Urbervilles (1891), and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (1925)—span the period from mid-Victorian to early Twentieth century and unfold the nature of intimacy in the conjugal life of the characters and the paradoxes it entails: the failure of marital intimacy leads, in fact, to self-recognition and propels further changes in intimate as well as social relations. Throughout the study, I look at different intimate relationships among married couples, tracing the characters’ behaviors, perceptions, and social expectations in a changing and developing society, especially in relation to female characters who, although seeing marriage in economic terms, marry for happiness as their primary goal to gain social and financial status. Marriage remains a standard social norm for the rest of the century. The intimacy that I will discuss in this study is not the closeness and connection between two people; it is instead an intimacy that characters have with themselves due to the lack of closeness and connectedness with others; during and after marriage, intimacy in their relationships becomes paradoxical. Though they lack intimacy due to inequality, distrust, uncertainty, and misunderstanding, their lives are still intertwined. Despite the physical and emotional attachment, intimacy involves knowledge and awareness of their personality and identity. In this respect, the characters’ failure to achieve intimacy with others ends up generating a productive self-understanding and self-recognition.