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Title: Modern Fiction and its Phantoms
Authors: Calver, Harriet
Advisors: DiBattista, Maria
Fuss, Diana J.
Contributors: English Department
Keywords: Ghosts
Literary style
Subjects: English literature
Modern literature
Issue Date: 2017
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: The fiction of the turn of the twentieth century is driven by the nonhuman. Characters and narrators alike are ousted by things, animals, environments, and all manner of inhuman otherness. Modern Fiction and its Phantoms reads the novels of Virginia Woolf and Dorothy Richardson alongside ghost stories by M. R. James, Vernon Lee, and others, in order to explore how this autonomous world creeps close to the self. We recall the kitchen table Lily fails to picture when she is "not there" in To The Lighthouse. Lily can only summon a table which is as much entangled with her imagination as with a pear tree. A beyond-human reality is imperceptible, un-writeable. Yet I wish to highlight a notable aspect of such characteristic modern apophasis: that radical alterity is frequently illegible not because it is inaccessible to signs but because it is in league with signs. Alterity dwells in, and usurps us through, the processes and structures of fiction. It is lively; coalescing in the voice, the momentum, the meaning-making devices of fiction. It arises, disconcertingly, out of all that seems most human about narrative. The conspiratorial collusion between the nonhuman and the symbolic is something we should all recognise from the ghost story. Indeed, metaleptic horror stories about documents coming to life peaked as the nineteenth century edged into the twentieth. But that phantasmal relationship is also distinctly present in domestic, modernist novels. These are narratives in which signifiers share an eerie proximity with signifieds and symbolic worlds collapse into real worlds. On the one hand, this is a form of extreme mimeticism (the realist tradition is visible here, as it was inherited and distorted). But it can also be understood as a particular strain of modern abstraction, in which literary style is understood as a stronghold of otherness, and in which the individual is not so much alienated by an inhospitable world but rather, through this aesthetic intimacy, brought into sudden contact with it. The fiction of the turn of the twentieth century in Britain was haunted by a relentless realism.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:English

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