I’ve been moaning about my dissertation on these parts since the start of the year. I don’t want all my research, time and effort to go to waste, so I thought I’d share what I found during the process of writing my dissertation on Victorian witches with you.
So, I recently finished my Master of Arts degree in Victorian Literature at the University of Liverpool. You can find out all about my modules, essays and reading lists here: sem I & sem II. I will
eventually have a separate post on my experience as a master student, so let’s not dwell on that here.
Anyway, four months, 53 pages and 16,138 words later, I handed my dissertation (and my final essay ever) in on the 13th September – of all days, smh.
I chose to write on Victorian witches as it combines two of my favourite things
(and I had already written on the Brontës for my undergrad diss). I focused on how Victorian authors re-told history, titling my work ‘William Harrison Ainsworth’s and Elizabeth Gaskell’s Historical Storytelling of the Witch Through Famous Witch Hunts/Trials’.
Witches receive very little attention by critics, despite being prevalent in Victorian literature. Due to the fluidity of their definition, as I discovered, witches metamorphised in various forms. Writers were forced to play with the image of the witch because belief in the occult, the supernatural, and in womanhood, was constantly in flux during this century.
I could add to the debate on Victorian Gothic by looking at portrayals of witches from a historical perspective. I focused on Ainsworth’s The Lancashire Witches, which re-told the Pendle Witches, and Gaskell’s ‘Lois the Witch’, which re-told the Salem Witch Trials. Although set on opposite ends of the Atlantic, they explore how women were vilified by small communities. I analysed through obvious themes, such as gender, race and class.
So, I split my introduction into four subsections: