English, Department of


Date of this Version



Character and Gendered Verbs, October 2015, Vol. XXI, No. 1, pp. 1-15


During the 19th century, gender politics played a crucial role in shaping the emergence of the novel as a popular and successful form of literature. Not only were middle class women becoming an important part of the reading public, women were also authoring novels and creating complex heroines that at times pushed against, and at other times bolstered, traditional conceptions of propriety and femininity. Along with a rise in popularity came a rise in the critique of the novel as a valid literary genre; many critics claimed that novels were capable of corrupting their female readership. Authors responded to this claim both by seeking to highlight moral propriety through fiction and by questioning conventional notions of moral female behavior. Our project engaged with the complex relationship between gender and the 19th century novel by exploring the way that female characters are portrayed in a corpus of 3,500 19th century novels. We examined the agency associated with male and female characters by studying the different types of verbs used in conjuncture with male and female pronouns. Through the course of our research we focused on the following questions: Are male and female characters performing different actions in the 19the century novel? Are the female characters created by male authors associated with different actions than those created by female authors? During the course of the 19th century, do the types of actions associated with women change?