This thesis examines two specific interventions in vision theory—namely, Herbert Spencer's theory of organic memory, which he developed by way of Lamarckian genetics and Darwinian evolution in A System of Synthetic Philosophy (1864), and the Aesthetic Movement (1870s–1890s), famously articulated by Walter Pater in The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry (1873 and 1893). I explore the impact of these theories on late nineteenth-century fiction, focusing on two novels: Thomas Hardy's Two on a Tower (1882) and Edith Johnstone's A Sunless Heart (1894). These two authors' texts engage with scientific and aesthetic visual theories to demonstrate their anxieties concerning the perceptive gaze and to reveal the difficulties and limitations of visual perception and misperception for both the observer and the observed within the context of social class. It is widely accepted by scholars of the so-called visual turn in the Victorian era - following landmark works by Kate Flint and Nancy Armstrong - that myriad anxieties were associated with new ways of seeing during this time. Building on this work, my thesis focuses specifically on how these two approaches to visual perception - organic memory and Aestheticism - were intertwined with anxieties about social status and mobility. The novels analyzed in this thesis demonstrate how subjective visual perception affects one's place within the social hierarchy, as we see reflected in the fluctuating social statuses of Hardy's star-crossed lovers, Swithin St Cleeve and Lady Constantine, and Johnstone's two female protagonists, Gasparine O'Neill and Lotus Grace.
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Master of Arts (M.A.)
College of Arts and Humanities
English; Literary, Cultural, and Textual Studies
Length of Campus-only Access
Masters Thesis (Open Access)
Rushworth, Lindsay, "Concerning the Perceptive Gaze: The Impact of Vision Theories on Late Nineteenth-Century Victorian Literature" (2019). Electronic Theses and Dissertations, 2004-2019. 6420.