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Title:The Last Will and Testament in The Victorian Novel
Author(s):Burke, Richard Christopher
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Literature, English
Abstract:The last will and testament is especially prominent in Victorian fiction: in such masterpieces as Middlemarch, Vanity Fair, and Our Mutual Friend, and in such lesser works as Henry Kingsley's Ravenshoe and Rider Haggard's Mr. Meeson's Will. The dissertation focuses on those fictional wills for which we know somthing of the testator's motives, the will's contents, and the will's effects. An introduction explains how social and economic developments in Victorian England help account for the fictional will's popularity. The first chapter examines actual Victorian wills and categorizes them as open, memorial, or controlling, depending on the relationship the testator seeks to establish with the legatees. A look at contemporary attitudes towards wills, testators, inheritance, and death helps establish the social context for the fictional wills. The second chapter describes the fictional wills' conventions: the amount of wealth they convey, the motivations behind them, the effects they have on legatees. These effects vary considerably, but deserving characters virtually never suffer permanent harm from the contents of a will. The third chapter analyzes the effects a will has on the form and content of the novel in which it appears. An explicitly anticipated will gives the reader a sense of an ending that makes possible continuing assessments of characters' actions and values. An unanticipated will serves to establish fixed and arbitrary circumstances from which the plot will flow. The fictional will helps reveal the hierarchy of a character's attitudes toward wealth, mortality, time, family, affection, and identity, thereby uniting most of the Victorian novel's major themes in one act. The fourth chapter considers these themes: with the wills, time's effects are revealed, the great importance of individual autonomy emphasized, the pitfalls of selfishness examined, and the value of property considered.
Issue Date:1982
Description:278 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1982.
Other Identifier(s):(UMI)AAI8302818
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-12-15
Date Deposited:1982

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