Doctor of Philosophy in English (PhD)
Make it Real: Performance and Meaning-Making in Arthur Conan Doyle's spiritualist writings
Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.
Often considered founding texts of the sensation genre, Wilkie Collins’s novels of the 1860s have been identified with the perceived accelerated pace of modern life in the mid-nineteenth century. Indeed, Collins’s sensation fiction, which dominated the “sensational sixties,” emerged onto the literary scene in a time of temporal transition in Britain. The rapid industrialization of British labour combined with technological innovations in transportation and communication, such as rail travel and telegraphy, in the early nineteenth century necessitated the standardization of timekeeping in Britain, a process that began with the 1840 adoption of Greenwich Mean Time along rail lines, culminated in the 1880 adoption of Greenwich time as the legal standard across the United Kingdom, and structured daily life around clock time. Critics have read Collins’s novels as instilling the time discipline of standardized clock time in their plots, with their emphasis on timing, chronology, and suspense. Using Collins’s The Woman in White (1859–60) and Armadale (1864–66) as case studies of sensational temporality, my thesis complicates that reading, arguing that these novels resist time discipline by encoding contemporary concerns around standardized timekeeping and its dissonance with the heterogenous experience of personal time in both their representations of timekeeping and their narrative structures. Although the protagonists of these two novels adopt time discipline to unravel the villains’ carefully timed plots, the exigencies of clock time induce psychological breaks from temporal regularity, not only suggesting Collins’s critique of time discipline as mentally taxing but also positioning standardized time as a cultural construct that obscures more durational and personal temporal rhythms. Moreover, Collins’s sensational narrative strategies, such as timestamping, dilation, contraction, and suspense, as well as his metonymic representations of timepieces work together to critique an increasingly industrialized world, typified both by the contemporary attention to timekeeping and by the very serialized forms in which these novels were originally published. In doing so, Collins’s clockwork plots not only establish many of the time-sensitive conventions of the sensation genre but also point to a mid-nineteenth century preoccupation with the heterogeneity of time perception that prefigures late-nineteenth century psychological, philosophical, and literary discourses.
The Introduction shows that scholars disagree strongly about Thomas Hardy’s creative abilities as a poet. To avoid this critical impasse, I limited the scope of my study to an aspect of Hardy’s work about whose artistic value Hardy scholars agree: i.e., the inherent lyricism in Hardy’s descriptions of nature.In Chapter 1, I study sixteen poems written by Hardy in which nature is either the principal or the sole subject of the poem and show that the nature section(s) may be isolated and stand on their own.In Chapter 2, I examine and versify some of Hardy’s prose descriptions of nature to (1) show that some prose passages, like the nature sections in the poems discussed in Chapter 1, may be taken out of the whole and stand as a poem or prose narrative on their own and (2) bring their lyricism to the fore. The following excerpt from The Return of the Native (Gatrell 17) is an example of what I did:MY VERSIFICATIONThere the form stood, | motionless as the hill beneath. | Above the plain rose the hill, | above the hill rose the barrow, | above the barrow rose the figure, | above the figure was nothing | that could be mapped elsewhere | than on a celestial globe.ORIGINAL TEXT - PROSEThere the form stood, motionless as the hill beneath. Above the plain rose the hill, above the hill rose the barrow, above the barrow rose the figure. Above the figure was nothing that could be mapped elsewhere than on a celestial globe.The strong rhythm given to this prose passage by the shortness of the sentences, the repetition of the words “above the” (rhetorical anaphora) and “rose the hill,” “hill rose the barrow,” “barrow rose the figure,” “figure” (repetition and assonance) bring out Hardy’s poetic intent and lyricism.In the Epilogue, I summarise the basic conclusions reached in the main body of the essay in regard to: (1) the role that Hardy’s descriptions of nature play within the passages where they occur and (2) the most important syntactic elements found in Hardy’s lyrical descriptions of nature.
The small but growing body of literary criticism surrounding the fiction of Algernon Blackwood (1869-1951) tends to characterize his work as late Victorian genre fiction or “weird tales.” Indeed, most scholars situate Blackwood among the ranks of “weird fiction” writers like H.P. Lovecraft, Arthur Machen, and William Hope Hodgson. This thesis traces an alternative contextual web around his literary oeuvre, analyzing Blackwood’s prose fiction against the backdrop of the intense reinvigoration of supernatural belief during the British Occult Revival. Blackwood’s fiction registers the period’s complex interactions between occult enthusiasm and emerging psychodynamic discourses by consistently positioning the mystical and the psychological as analogues for one another. In this thesis, I focus on Blackwood’s fictional interactions with burgeoning theories of human consciousness emerging during the period, which he explores through an occult lens as well as a scientific register. Rather than cementing a dualism between scientific materialism and supernaturalism, Blackwood’s fiction demonstrates that the period’s knowledge production entails more complex exchanges between these seemingly opposed sides. From his fin-de-siècle psychic detective series John Silence to his wartime stories, Blackwood’s prose fiction displays an overarching concern with the interiority of the human mind and the limits of language. I argue that these underexamined aspects of Blackwood’s writing are best characterized as proto-Modernist, thus positing popular origins to many of the perennial themes of high Modernist literature. My thesis is organized into two sections, interposing the historical event of the Great War as the pivotal moment that occasioned a notable shift in Blackwood’s fiction towards a focus on trauma as the central object of fictional study.
The anthropocene, the current geological epoch of anthropogenic climate change, presents a problem for fictional representation. Indeed, scholars have identified problems with representations of the anthropocene in both realistic fiction and climate fiction (cli-fi). The former fails to capture the surreal changes to the weather and the landscape, while the latter focuses on the future at the expense of the past and present. Cli-fi in particular has followed a mode of climate change discourse known as “catastrophizing.” This discourse evokes responses to climate change that replicate the historical power structures that caused it in the first place while putting the Global South at greater risk of suffering the consequences of climate change than the Global North. Is there a way to represent the anthropocene in fiction without replicating this discourse? In this thesis, I argue that the Gothic offers a language with which to access the historical and social complexity of the anthropocene. In order to make this argument, I perform a close reading of three Guillermo del Toro films—Crimson Peak, The Shape of Water, and Pacific Rim. These films, when taken together, form a trilogy of what I am calling “anthropocene gothic.” Del Toro’s anthropocene gothic uses monsters to represent the fraught relationship between past, present, future; blur the distinction between human and other-than-human; and break down the boundaries between self and other. Rather than focusing on large-scale disaster, these films focus on complex historical and social relationships that fueled and continue to fuel the progress of anthropogenic climate change. The anthropocene stories that these films tell are stories of violence and exploitation, as well as of kinship and transformation. These stories resist simplistic catastrophe narratives by embracing complications and the potential for a hopeful future.
The central argument of this thesis is that several tropes or motifs exist in social novels of the 1890s which connect them with each other in a genre, and which indicate a significant literary preoccupation with contemporary heredity theory. These tropes include sibling and twin comparison stories, the woman musician’s conflict between professionalism and domesticity, and speculation about biparental inheritance. The particulars of heredity theory with which these novels engage are consistent with the writings of Francis Galton, specifically on hereditary genius and regression theory, sibling and twin biometry, and theoretical population studies. Concurrent with the curiosity of novelists about science, was the anxiety of scientists about discursive linguistic sharing. In the thesis, I illuminate moments when science writers (Galton, August Weismann, William Bates, and Karl Pearson) acknowledged the literary process and the reading audience. I have structured the thesis around the chronological appearance of heredity themes in 1890s social novels, because I am arguing for the existence of a broader cultural curiosity about heredity themes, irrespective of authors’ primary engagement with scientific texts. Finally, I introduce the statistical imaginary as a framework for understanding human difference through populations and time, as evidenced by the construction of theoretical population samples – communities, crowds, and peer groups – in 1890s social fictions.
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