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'Tender and true': morality and masculinity in nineteenth-century women‟s fiction

Turner, Karen Jane


Karen Jane Turner



In 1883 Eliza Lynn Linton described the men in women‟s fiction as „prigs, ruffians, or curled darlings‟, claiming that women writers cannot portray morally good men in fiction without making them seem unrealistic, unattractive, or both. This thesis argues that nineteenth-century women writers not only understood male goodness, but also that they sought to modify and subvert contemporary models of masculinity by positioning good men at the heart of domestic and public narrative. Masculine goodness is traced in texts from Jane Austen to Mary Ward with a view to understanding the ways in which good men are imagined and portrayed in nineteenth-century fiction. Critical reassessment of some canonical texts reveals that good men function as new ideological representations of nineteenth-century masculinity.
By examining non-fictional texts, philosophical, and theoretical works alongside selected works of fiction, I contextualise the socio-historical importance of masculine moral goodness and its development between1813 and 1889. The work of Adam Smith, Samuel Smiles and selected modern philosophers helps to illuminate some of the issues raised, and the work of contemporary masculinity theorist Victor Seidler also shows that women writers often anticipated modern analyses of masculinities. My interpretation of selected fictional texts leads to the identification and evaluation of the phenomenon that I have called „moral masculinity‟, which qualitatively differs from existing notions of nineteenth-century cultural maleness. I demonstrate that the manifestation of male goodness changes according to current cultural and social norms: the good man is not necessarily „manly‟, nor is he always a hero. Rather, moral masculinity is an act of will and character, involving duty, conscience and self-scrutiny; and yet it is subject to deep anxieties and uncertainties as the good man negotiates moral terrains.


Turner, K. J. (2015). 'Tender and true': morality and masculinity in nineteenth-century women‟s fiction. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Aug 5, 2021
Publicly Available Date Feb 23, 2023
Keywords English
Public URL
Additional Information Department of English, The University of Hull
Award Date Sep 1, 2015


Thesis (1.4 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2015 Turner, Karen Jane. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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