School of Social Sciences

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Theresa Miller

Start date

Sep 2012

Submission date

Nov 2016

Theresa Miller


Gaining the World’s Acceptance: Disability, Care, and Self-Determination in the Work of Dinah Mulock Craik (1826-1887)


This research is concerned with the representation of ‘caring relationships’ and disability in the novels and non-fiction writing of the nineteenth-century author Dinah Mulock Craik. Craik’s life and literature provide an opportunity to examine the complex figuration of care which takes place across our life span as we move between the roles of 'cared-for' and 'care-giver'. My reading of Craik's diaries and letters, through the lens of an ethics of care, provides the platform from which I embark on a critical analysis of a number of her novels.

Craik’s engagement with care is neither static nor tied to restricted constructions of caring relationships. Through my analysis of Craik’s novels I explore how Craik vacillates between traditional, gendered, narratives of self-sacrifice and narratives which present a relationship of care based on sibling love and the lived experience of mutual impairments. To extend the way in which Craik explores the gendered nature of caring relationships I examine Craik's representation of the male carer. Craik's novels also highlight the importance of interdependency and in doing so reveal the way in which care is a fundamental aspect of our daily social interactions and individual identities.

Why my research is important

I suggest that the examination of care in fictional narratives has been overly influenced by a western liberal tradition which has focused its attention on the autonomous liberal subject and which excludes those who require care and support to function autonomously in society. The negative discourse surrounding care and caring relationships stems in part from feminist and disability scholars who view care as problematic due to the heavy burden of responsibility placed on women in caring relationships and the negative connotations associated with so called ‘Institutions of Care’ into which disabled people are placed. These attitudes have subsequently been embraced by feminist literary and literary disability scholars, as they seek to rediscover and resurrect narratives of, and about, women and people with disabilities which destabilize images of dependence and vulnerability.

However, whilst these concerns are valid and require investigation they have also contributed to a fiction of independence which negates the complexity and validity of caring relationships.It is my contention that the gap between neglecting to analyse care in fictional narratives and reading it solely from the perspective of gendered and oppressive regimes of power, can be bridged by employing a framework which uses of an ethics of care which focuses on interdependency and the relationships between the cared for and the care givers to read certain texts. The novels of Dinah Mulock Craik provide us with an opportunity to put such a framework to the test.


  • Australian Postgraduate Award
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