Vol. 14:2 (2021) ► pp.119–149
The representation of mothers and the gendered social structure of nineteenth-century children’s literature
Language has the capacity to create fictional worlds and to describe real-life social structures. In this paper, we explore gendered social structures in a corpus of nineteenth-century children’s fiction. We describe these structures in terms of the frequent nouns that are used to label people in the texts of the corpus. Through a bottom-up categorisation of these nouns into four groups, we find, in line with previous studies, textual evidence of a society that is unequal and that is divided into a private and a public sphere. Our study focuses in particular on mothers, the most frequent character type in children’s fiction. The representation of mothers includes abstract qualities, such as a mother’s love, as well as concrete behaviours, such as mothers taking their children into their arms. Both types of qualities contribute to the depiction of mothers as an anchor point for the private sphere.
- 2.Norms and ideologies
- 3.A corpus approach
- 3.1The 19th Century Children’s Literature (ChiLit) corpus
- 4.The representation of mothers
- 4.1The social worlds mothers inhabit
- 4.2Linguistic and social ties
- 4.3Abstract and concrete qualities of motherhood
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