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Title: The Breakup Novel
Authors: Davis, Ian
Advisors: KotinFuss, JoshuaDiana
Contributors: English Department
Keywords: affect theory
cultural studies
history of intimacy
marriage plot
Subjects: English literature
Issue Date: 2023
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: 18th- and 19th-century European and American fictions are often identified with the marriage plot. 20th- and 21st-century fiction, however, is associated not with any particular form of plotting, but rather with incessant experimentation. The marriage plot, so the story goes, had no successor. *The Breakup Novel* disagrees: breakup plots are everywhere in early 20th-century fiction. Indeed, *The Breakup Novel* argues that the breakup is central to modernist experiments in narrative form and social analysis. Breakup novels—concerned with how to interpret the souring of an intimacy, its unnerving accrual of bad habits and ugly feelings—explore knotty conundrums of memory, affect, and social ethics. Breakup novelists used these conundrums to deconstruct the marriage plot and its teleologies, and to undercut the triumphalist promises of social progress attending modernity. Three chapters analyze the way a particular affect circulates in a novel about Americans breaking up in Paris: sociability in Henry James’s *The Ambassadors* (1903); anxiety in Djuna Barnes’s *Nightwood* (1936); and contempt in *Giovanni’s Room* (1956). Each affect forms a structure of interpretation which shapes each novel’s representation of social relations and narrative style, and which is key to each novel’s interrogation of why intimacies break down. These three novels also suggest, with remarkable consistency, a series of ways in which race and nation play a role in the production of harmful, unsustainable intimacies. Finally, the coda turns briefly toward a different genre of breakup narrative: the sitcom. Its happy slapstick endings suggest an entirely other approach to the raw, unruly energies of the breakup—and give some hints about the general contours of the massive explosion, after 1960 or so, of breakup culture.
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:English

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