AbstractsLaw & Legal Studies

Masters and masculinity: the men of industry in Elizabeth Gaskell's Manchester novels

by Brittany Elizabeth Blake

Institution: California State University – Sacramento
Year: 2016
Keywords: Elizabeth Gaskell; Victorian literature; Masters and workers; masculinity; Mary Barton; North and South
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2073218
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10211.3/171267


Masculinity within Victorian literature and culture is often distilled to general concepts of what it meant to ???be a man??? or ???be a gentleman,??? but the novels of Elizabeth Gaskell show a fluidity of masculinity through male relationships. Specifically, the masculinity portrayed in Mary Barton (1848) and North and South (1854) presents two variations of masculinity through master-worker relationships, exposing the instability of a single definition of (gentle)manliness. In Mary Barton, the conflict between John Barton and John Carson is based on their shared agony of the loss of their respective only sons, and their mutual suffering leads to violence and a demand for revenge. With the intercession of Bible verses, the men are able to achieve reconciliation just before Barton???s death, urging male forgiveness and a master???s duty to move toward more humane treatment of his workers. The transformation of master-worker relationships in North and South is reliant on the keystone of masculinity, John Thornton. Thornton???s definition of masculinity is based on man in relation to himself, and so even though others in the community judge Thornton???s masculinity on his work as a master, he attempts to be manly in relation to himself. The significance of suffering and violence of Mary Barton is lessened in Thornton???s world because the reconciliation of master and worker allows Thornton greater understanding of himself, and thus Thornton and Nicholas Higgins are ultimately united not as master and worker, but as men. The transformation of master-worker relationships from Mary Barton to North and South exposes the fluidity of Victorian masculinity, from violent action and religious reconciliation to self-knowledge and manly unity. Ultimately, Gaskell???s development of Thornton as a master and a man promotes a changing view of the individual capitalist and, most importantly, the individual man. Advisors/Committee Members: Cope, Jonas.