Detection and the domestic: discursive practices in the writing of Ellen Wood

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This thesis will explore the interrelations of detection and the domestic in Ellen (Mrs Henry) Wood’s novels, short stories and journalism. I want to reconsider the position of Wood’s works in the heterogeneous category of sensation fiction and to tease out the implications of this imprecise location. When Wood’s association with the sensation school was established by Victorian critics in the 1860s, it became commonplace to read her works as sensational, a critical position consistent to the present day, despite the variation evident within her writings. I argue that the complexities within Wood’s oeuvre and the vast differences between her texts and those of other writers labelled as ‘sensational’ produces space for new approaches to her works. The prominence of detection and the domestic in Wood’s oeuvre, the discursive instability of her narratives and their resistance to classification produce a new reading strategy through which I will consider her writings: domestic detection. Ellen Wood’s writings are replete with depictions of homes, families and nations as she negotiates Victorian domestic discourses. In addition, crime and the law are prominent features of her works and the many investigative figures that people her narratives reveal that detection operates as discourse. By recuperating some of her lesser-known texts and revisiting the most famous one, I will develop new resonances between the works, and between Wood and other writers of the Victorian period. The discursive complexities of domestic detection in Wood’s writings and in Victorian literature and culture more broadly, suggest new ways of examining her novels, short fiction and journalism and the context in which they were produced. Wood’s works, previously pigeon-holed as conservative, formulaic and sentimental, reveal subtle, evasive gestures, and domestic detection forms a key part of these strategies. Hence, I want to suggest that Wood’s writings reflect and
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
StateUnpublished - 2009


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