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Title: Mere Curiosity: Knowledge, Desire, and Peril in the British and Irish Gothic Novel, 1796-1820
Authors: Azariah-Kribbs, Colin Nandeena
Advisors: Johnson, Claudia
Schor, Esther
Contributors: English Department
Keywords: Affect studies
Subjects: English literature
Issue Date: 2021
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Mere Curiosity: Knowledge, Desire, and Peril in the British and Irish Gothic Novel, 1796-1820 explores the depiction of curiosity in Matthew Lewis’s The Monk, Charlotte Dacre’s Zofloya, and Charles Robert Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer as a desire for knowledge that is sensational, perilous, and morally ambiguous. I argue that by invoking the Edenic and Faustian tropes of forbidden curiosity and erotic danger yet failing to provide a moral denunciation of curiosity, these novels resist both cautionary reactionism and the progressive optimism of certain strains of radical Romanticism. Instead, these novels provide an insight into wider trends in British and Irish Romanticism that affirmed both the sensational and perilous pleasures of curiosity while refusing to ascribe a moral value to these pleasures and dangers. In The Monk, Lewis depicts the shift from unconscious to conscious erotic desire as a type of self-knowledge that produces pleasure yet also alienates the individual from society by fracturing the coherence of his or her social identity. In Zofloya, Dacre employs both Humean skepticism and Humean sense-based moral philosophy in order to satirize moral philosophy itself as a consistently thwarted search for a knowledge of human behavior that derives a masochistic pleasure from its own colossal failures and frustrations. Finally, I argue that in Melmoth the Wanderer Maturin presents suffering as an ineffable reality that produces the “master-passion” and “master-torment” of curiosity in his various protagonists. As a palimpsest of various tales within tales attended to by voracious readers and listeners, Melmoth serves as a Gothic anti-theodicy, theorizing curiosity as an irresistible and “dangerous” passion that endlessly craves explanatory narratives in spite of their continual failure to resolve the ineffability of suffering.
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Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:English

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