Junghan Choi, SUNY at Stony Brook
Junghan Choi graduated from Brown University in 2001 and majored in English literature. Now she is an English PhD student at SUNY at Stony Brook and currently working on her dissertation titled "Class Anxiety: Orphans in 19th century English Novels." She is especially interested in orphan protagonists and the effects of social stigma of being an orphan represented in the novels. In 2006 she presented a short paper titled "Class Anxiety and the Psychological State of Orphans of 19th century: the Story of Lucy Snowe" at Georgia State University graduate conference.
No Name, No Class, No Identity: Female Orphans that Threaten Victorian Families
James Eli Adams said one identifies himself with "inherited" or earned ranks, family and connections. It is interesting, however, in 19th century English novels, numbers of protagonists, both male and female, are orphans with no name or no family. Frankenstein's creature, abandoned by his father, laments that the society is obsessed with "the division of property, of immense wealth and squalid poverty, of rank, descent, and noble blood." I'm interested in how the 19th century novelists portrayed the relationship between these nameless individuals (or orphans) and their society, and for this presentation, I would like to focus on two dangerous female orphans who are known to threaten their society, Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair and Magdalen Vanstone in No Name. In Orphan Texts : Victorian Orphans, Culture and Empire (2000) Laura Peters recognizes orphans as "the difference within" and also emphasizes that they were considered a threat to Victorian society. Yet, it is the orphans' obscure social status that threatens their survival and dignity as human beings. Thus, Becky and Magdalen decide to resist and challenge social prejudice with extreme measures. I would like to discuss how these orphans promote social mobility without destroying the virtues and moral principles that the truly privileged should carry and how they encourage their society to be more flexible socially and culturally. I would also like to briefly discuss the historical facts such as the Bastardy Clause and the Poor Law regarding "real" orphans in 19th century, although my arguments are based on literary orphans.