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Title: Conceiving Generation: the Novel & the Nuclear Family around 1800
Authors: Eldridge, Sarah Vandegrift
Advisors: Doherty, Brigid
Vogl, Joseph
Contributors: German Department
Keywords: Blumenbach
Subjects: Germanic literature
European studies
History of science
Issue Date: 2012
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Starting from the rough historical correspondence of the emergence of the nuclear family as an entity of great symbolic importance for the bourgeoisie and the rise of the genre of the novel in its modern form, my project explores the ways in which these two fields mutually constitute each other. Changes in the internal economy of the family brought with them changes in the formal and representational strategies available to authors such as Goethe, Tieck, and Brentano as well as Caroline von Wolzogen, Sophie Mereau, Friederike Unger, Johann Jakob Engel, August Lafontaine, and Caroline Fischer. My first chapter outlines this historical simultaneity, starting by tracing the history of the family particularly in the bourgeoisie, who used the rhetoric of the affective nuclear family to differentiate themselves from the aristocratic and courtly classes. The novel, I claim, in addition to being the genre in which the much-touted `individual subject' makes a first appearance, is also an ideal site for creative, empathetic experimentation with the possibilities of that subject's connection to both previous and future generations. My second chapter investigates models of generation in both a biological and a social sense: I analyze 18th-century scientific debates between preformation and epigenesis, and use this controversy as a lens through which to investigate parallel shifts in the relation between parents and children and modes of education. The novel explores the possibilities and difficulties that ensue when parents and children have different notions of what kind of resemblance or obligation should obtain between generations, with the perspective of the novels clearly advocating the cultivation of unique personalities rather than enforcing laws of direct resemblance and obedience. By deemphasizing blood connections and portraying affective and social ties that otherwise determine relationships, the novel both comments on and influences contemporaneous thoughts about how human life is generated, formed, and reproduced. In much the way that education substitutes for blood ties in generating social identities, narration itself, as a type of witnessing that is passed down between generations, substitutes for simple practices of inheritance within kinship groups. Thus in my third chapter I turn to the figure of `testation,' in the dual sense of `testament' and `testify,' to discuss how the novel describes channels of transmission in families or surrogate families and how this both relates to and transcends contemporaneous legal practice. The novel is both a metacommentary on practices of testation, insofar as testaments and testimonies are frequent elements of its plots, and itself a practice of testation in a literary tradition.
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:German

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