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Title: Leave-Takings: Anti-Self-Consciousness and the Escapist Ends of the Victorian Marriage Plot
Authors: Reilly, Ariana Elaine
Advisors: Nord, Deborah E
Contributors: English Department
Keywords: anti-self-consciousness
marriage plot
victorian novel
Subjects: British and Irish literature
Issue Date: 2015
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Leave-takings: Anti-Self-Consciousness and the Escapist Ends of the Victorian Marriage Plot reevaluates the critical history of the marriage plot by focusing on its investment in alternatives to self-conscious subjectivity, and argues that authors and readers turned to the marriage plot in order to escape a burdensome but unavoidable state of self-doubt and introspection. Highlighting the centrality of Carlyle’s “theory of anti-self-consciousness” to the Victorian marriage plot, Leave-takings not only recognizes a popular genre’s serious participation in philosophical debate but also delineates a less-gendered plotline, thereby avoiding the tired teleology of critical studies that persistently equate the marriage plot with the domestic Bildungsroman. The first chapter, “A Romance Re-Tailored: Sartor Resartus and the Love Letters of Jane and Thomas Carlyle,” introduces Carlyle’s theory of anti-self-consciousness and, drawing on letters the Carlyles exchanged during their courtship, argues that this theory, most fully articulated in Sartor, grew out of what amounted to an extended epistolary theorization of marriage. Having thus demonstrated the deep connection between anti-self-consciousness and matrimony, Leave-Takings explores the treatment of anti-self-consciousness in four Victorian novels: Mary Barton, Shirley, Villette, and Romola. In particular, the dissertation demonstrates that romantic desire in the Victorian novel often merges with a desire to escape the self. The second chapter, “Working Through: Anti-Self-Conscious Labors of Body and Mind in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton,” attends to the way in which Gaskell’s text simultaneously preaches and critiques Carlyle’s Gospel of Work as it tries to envision anti-self-consciousness as a product of labor and state of marital bliss. The third chapter, “Leave Sunny Imaginations Hope: Anti-Self-Consciousness, Escapist Reading, and Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley and Villette,” considers how the reader’s escapist desire finds its reflection in the anti-self-conscious desire of literary heroines. Leave-Takings concludes by considering the legacy of Victorian anti-self-consciousness in contemporary criticism. The coda, “Critical Escapism, Surface Reading, and George Eliot’s Romola,” asks whether the descriptive turn is also an escapist one, and ponders the professional and political implications of the anti-self-conscious fantasy of objectivity.
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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