Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Responding to the French Revolution (1789-1799) with his widely read text Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), conservative Whig politician Edmund Burke influentially accused an ambitious bourgeoisie of inciting the lower classes to revolt against the aristocracy and Bourbon dynasty. He also insinuated that only the class hierarchy and feudal respect prevented a similar upstart peril in England from occasioning revolution. For the English middle classes, this demonization of upstarts, or parvenus posed an ideological challenge to their public consolidation as a political and cultural force. Bourgeois authors from Jane Austen to Charles Dickens utilized an upstart rivalry device in the English novel to convey the moral differences existing between the selfish, ambitious, and rebellious lower-class upstart and the civic-minded, selfless, and industrious bourgeoisie. Initially, this moral distinction rejected the allegations of a bourgeois upstart peril, didactically instructing readers to practice dignified contentment rather than jeopardize class distinctions through aristocratic aspirations, but it also represented a literary defense of the ongoing middle-class rise. Similar socioeconomic backgrounds of upstarts and authorial reluctance to entirely blame the selfish upstart, suggests resentment of the inability of the hereditary elite to address societal issues in the first part of the nineteenth century, tasks assumed instead by the bourgeoisie. Ultimately, the literary upstart rivalry in the English novel will be shown as assisting in the portrayal of Victorian middle-class desires as distinct in selflessness from aristocratic hedonism or lower-class greed, leading to the cultural celebration of the bourgeois hero and heroine in England.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.