"Honourable" or "Highly-sexed" Adjectival Descriptions of Male and Female Characters in Victorian and Contemporary Children's Fiction

Detta är en avhandling från Uppsala : Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis

Sammanfattning: This corpus-based study examines adjectives and adjectival expressions used to describe characters in British children’s fiction. The focus is on diachronic variation, by comparing Victorian (19th-century) and contemporary (late 20th-century) children’s fiction, and on gender variation, by comparing the descriptions of female and male characters. I adopt a qualitative as well as a quantitative approach, and consider factors such as lexical diversity, adjectival density, collocation patterns, evaluative meaning, syntactic function and distribution across semantic domains. Most findings are related to a dichotomy set up between an idealistic and a realistic portrayal of characters. The study shows that an idealistic portrayal of characters is typical of the Victorian material and a realistic portrayal of characters typical of the contemporary material. Further, gender differences are much more pronounced, and reflect traditional gender role patterns more in the Victorian material than in the contemporary material. For instance, a pleasant appearance is typically described for Victorian female characters and social position for Victorian male characters. Moreover, descriptions of mental properties of Victorian female characters are conspicuously rare. Such gendered patterns are less distinct in the contemporary material, although appearance is still more extensively described for female than male characters. As regards how the qualities are attributed to characters, the descriptions of Victorian female characters were found to be the most formulaic compared to the descriptions of Victorian male, contemporary female and contemporary male characters.

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