Date of Completion


Embargo Period



19th Century literature, American literature, Women writers, Narrative Theory, Publishing history, Sentimentalism, Realism

Major Advisor

Dr. Sharon Harris

Associate Advisor

Dr. Clare Eby

Associate Advisor

Dr. Margaret Higonnet

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Campus Access


My dissertation argues for a reconsideration of nineteenth-century narrative endings as significant moments of literary transition from sentimentalism to realism, particularly in regards to depictions of marriage. Popular women writers like Rebecca Harding Davis, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Louisa May Alcott, and Mary Wilkins Freeman use the body of their works to advocate for a woman’s right to pursue her dreams outside the domestic space while their conclusions depict women sacrificing themselves for the sake of husbands, children, and home life. I maintain that these writers use their seemingly contradictory endings to undermine the possibility of narrative closure and challenge the formulaic plotlines of earlier nineteenth-century women’s fiction. Transitioning from the more structured conventions of sentimentalism into the uncertainty of realism, they utilize a narrative technique I call “troubled conclusions” to functionally end the texts while still allowing the narrative tensions to remain unresolved. In so doing, Davis, Phelps, Alcott, and Freeman force readers to question their endings and continue considering the complicated issues they fail to resolve, subtly suggesting that these issues are perhaps irresolvable.