Scientific Novels and ‘Lady Novelists’: Nature and Nurture In Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters

Ashlie Flanigan

A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Liberal Arts, College of Arts and Sciences, University of South Florida St. Petersburg, July 09, 2014.

Abstract

This thesis explores the Darwinian concept of nature and nurture as found in 19th century British Fiction, specifically Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters. Austen identifies and explores the traits of her characters that are innate and learned, and considers the connection between those traits and indicators of class difference known as gentility. Gaskell uses the concept of natural and natured behaviors to explore the social construction of masculinity and femininity, and how those constructions evolve. Analyzing these novels for early scientific thought helps modern day readers understand how evolutionary science, primarily considered a masculine pursuit, was understood by Austen and Gaskell and speaks to our own modern curiosity about human nature. This study shows how Austen and Gaskell anticipated and understood the currents of emerging scientific thought and used these evolutionary themes to analyze their own cultures.