Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


This thesis will explore the image of the labyrinth and its use as a metaphor for the theme of ritual initiation in selected novels by Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, and Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. In terms of its mythic interpretation, an aspect which as yet has not been examined at length by critics of Victorian fiction, the labyrinth or maze has significance beyond its Gothic and urban associations. Chapter One looks at the use of the image in the settings of several novels, the London of Oliver Twist, The Old Curiosity Shop, Barnaby Rudge, and Bleak House, and the labyrinthine houses and lunatic asylums of Collins and Le Fanu. Chapter Two considers some variations of the image and its evolution as an emblem of moral dilemma and psychological entrapment. It also examines the figure of the false guide or "ironic Ariadne" in the characters of Seth Pecksniff of Martin Chuzzlewit and Mr. Vholes of Bleak House. All three writers use the image of the labyrinth to describe a condition of alienation from the rest of the world. In so doing, they pave the way for later writers in the attempt to convey psychological states in imaginative terms. Through the characters of Ezra Jennings in The Moonstone and Dillon in The House by the Churchyard, Collins and Le Fanu experimented with the use of the psychological detective who solves problems by attempting to probe the workings of the mind. Similarly concerned with psychological issues, Le Fanu believes that successful negotiation of the maze is achieved only with a recognition of the power of God. The final chapter studies the maze-like form of Victorian mystery novels and investigates how this structure informs the plots of The Moonstone, The Woman in White, Armadale, and The House by the Churchyard. In these works, the form mirrors the content and the mysteries in the narratives find their counterparts in the labyrinthine technique of the novels.



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