Ela and Ada: Gender, Class and Performativity in Penny Romances
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Two stories serialized in cheap periodicals in the nineteenth century, Ela, the Outcast (1839) by Thomas Peckett Prest and Ada, the Betrayed (1843) by James Malcolm Rymer, are analysed using gender theory informed by Joan Scott and Judith Butler. These stories were read primarily by a working-class audience, and the aim of this thesis is to uncover how notions of gender, class, and race pervade these texts, in order to learn more about the broader discourse on these topics among the working class. From the analysis follows that the dominant way of looking at middle-class gendered relationships, separate sphere theory, is merely one of many cultural symbols within these texts. Additionally, gender is constructed in conjunction with class and race, which gives rise to contrasting expressions of gender and gender roles. Within the texts a difference is made between sex, which cannot be transgressed, and gender, which can be expressed in varied ways and is of a performative nature. Though embedded in the language of the dominant middle-class discourse, the two stories contest it by employment of contrasting cultural symbols and meanings.