Homeless Boys: Male Development and Imperial Expansion in Victorian Fiction
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The purpose of this dissertation is to examine the ways in which traveling boys in Victorian fiction embody and complicate cultural ideas concerning the formation of masculinity and the imperial expansion. Both literary critics and historians of Victorian Britain have investigated how the discourse over the construct of masculinity intersects with the values of the domestic, seeking to challenge traditional thinking around the dichotomy of masculinity/femininity and public/domestic spheres. Extending upon recent studies of male domesticity, this dissertation focuses not on adult men who are defined in terms of the domestic but on boys who have no secure place within home/home country. I define boyhood as a state in which one is settled nowhere but is expected to demonstrate maturity by finding one's own home; it includes not only boys in the biological sense but also the marginalized boy-men with no rightful position in the domestic sphere and/or in the home country. Nineteenth-century British fictions often confirm the myth of male self-development through portraying boy characters' leaving and returning to home and home country. To reintegrate into those spaces, they must demonstrate their acquisition of manliness. By reading their rite of passage in terms of homelessness and at-homeness, I contend that the figure of the traveling boy helps to illuminate unresolved contradictions lurking within the Victorian idea of home building, whether the word "home" addresses the domestic space that is in opposition to the public sphere or the center of the empire that is in opposition to the foreign. One of my central arguments is that by associating boyhood with its national character, Victorian Britain celebrates its continuing advancement to the margins, as well as imagining its subjects being stably anchored at its center even while being away from it. Identifying themselves as displaced from the domestic space, boys seek a sense of at-homeness during journeys, and their homelessness is expected to contribute both to the establishment of a new household and to the expansion of the empire. While the dominant discourse of Victorian Britain asserts that male subjects contribute to the expansion of the home through leaving and returning to it, fictions illuminate that they come to lose their home irrecoverably instead of feeling at home anywhere. Boy characters' relationship with their home and their home country change while traveling, thereby changing nationhood as well. Although they attempt to transform certain places into their homes, such spaces cannot be the same as the home that they have left behind, and the idea of home itself becomes complicated.
Kim, Soyoun (2017). Homeless Boys: Male Development and Imperial Expansion in Victorian Fiction. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from