The Heiress: Women, Property and Economics, 1780-1900

01 October 2023 → 30 September 2026
Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO)
Research disciplines
  • Humanities
    • Literatures in English
Western Europe 18th Century 19th Century English property nineteenth-century literature heiress Literary studies
Project description

The heiress is an overlooked though recurring and compelling figure in a wide range of novels by British authors between 1780 and 1900. By focusing on the heiress, this project indeed against a prevailing myth in literary studies of the long nineteenth century that propertied women in this period lacked agency. It achieves this overarching objective by combining literary and historical analysis to demonstrate how real-life heiresses manipulated the intersections of gender, class, and power in their favor, sometimes at the expense of others. In a first-of-its-kind endeavor, this project will uncover the documented experiences of six British female estate and business owners and consider them alongside fictionalisations in the realist novel. In so doing, it will be the first research project to show that the figure of the heiress is essential to the understanding of the long nineteenth-century's social, economic, and literary history.