'This thesis argues that examining the career of nineteenth-century actress and author Eliza Winstanley (1818-1882) increases understanding of the operation and reception of mid-Victorian penny weeklies. Winstanley's works—drawing structurally and thematically on her lengthy stage career—show how a working woman constructed female ambition in a period when women were barred from many professions. Simultaneously, her uniquely visible career—when most authors who wrote exclusively for penny weeklies are obscure figures—makes her methodologically valuable, as a means of better understanding the editing processes and economies of penny weeklies. First, I outline the way in which Winstanley became involved with penny-weekly publishing, through an examination of her early correspondence with editor G. W. M. Reynolds, and examine the texts that show her emergence as an independent writer, developing concerns that stemmed from her own experience and professional life: her earliest actress-heroines grapple with commodified bodies and lives, with the difficulties of being a professional woman, with disrupted ambition. Second, I examine her role as editor of the short-lived Fiction for Family Reading, in which she develops complex notions of the way in which religion, gender, and socio-economic distinctions operate in mid-Victorian society, rewriting existing texts to remove God and foreground sexual threats and economic hardships. Running through this fiction is the idea that middle-class domesticity— superior to aristocratic decadence—is preferable to working-class life only in the absence of grinding, unremunerative work and the disruptions to comfort that this entails. Third, I outline the nature of Bow Bells, the journal for which Winstanley produced the majority of her confirmed fiction, showing how it constructed authorship, relied heavily on female writers, and recognised the significance of women readers. Winstanley's fiction for this journal shows an experimental approach to genre and narrative, and an interest in successful and professional women. Finally, I look at adaptations of Winstanley's serials for suburban theatres, demonstrating how the playwrights negotiated the inherent theatricality of her writing. These adaptations show a tension between broad changes to the narratives and a conflicting desire for verisimilitude, manifested in the way in which the playwrights structured their works around the serials' original illustrations. Eliza Winstanley's career illuminates the intersection between forms of popular entertainment in the mid-Victorian period and the processes by which such material was produced.'
- Author's abstract