Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

John Lamb

Committee Co-Chair

Dennis Allen

Committee Member

Michael Germana

Committee Member

Linda Hughes

Committee Member

Lisa Weihman


This dissertation argues that popular literature defined how English readers should reconcile a class-based experience of empire with the broadest categories of national identity meant to unify the subjects of the British Empire. Serial genres---periodicals and novels published in numbers---examined new patterns of travel, new approaches to social problems, and the new opportunities empire created for members of the middle class. Spanning the period from roughly 1840 to 1870, each chapter examines a narrative trope used to engage Victorian readers with the concerns of empire, and thus give them an opportunity to imagine the greater world they were given access to by virtue of being part of the most powerful empire on earth. The tropes featured here sometimes overlap, or contradict one another; they change or reassert themselves over time; they remain fluid without seeming to be. Chapters on the serialized fiction of Charles Dickens and Elizabeth Gaskell, the visual work of Thomas Hood and William Thackeray, and periodicals like All the Year Round and the Japan Punch, demonstrate the extent to which literature for middle-class entertainment became a catalyst for different conceptions of Englishness, and challenge the notion that Empire was defined through one overarching identity category. Despite the insistence found in middle-class reading about the stability of the English character, in practice to be a subject of the British Empire meant one had opportunities to think, and re-think what class-based opportunities existed for them on a global scale.