TitleThe shape of history
NameLau, Meghan (author), DeKoven, Marianne (chair), Flint, Kate (internal member), Williams, Carolyn (internal member), Potter, Jane (outside member), Rutgers University, Graduate School - New Brunswick,
SubjectLiteratures in English,
World War, 1914-1918--Literature and the war, [revolution, etc.],
World War, 1914-1918--Historiography,
DescriptionThis dissertation argues that the literature of the First World War takes account of the epistemological crisis affecting historiographic discourse in the early twentieth century through experiments with literary form. Despite a lack of temporal distance, First World War writers understood themselves as witnesses to a crucial event and conceived of their work as both literature and history. These aspirations, however, were complicated by the fact that the writing of history in the early years of the twentieth century took place in the shadow of the crisis of historicism, the late-nineteenth-century debate between positivist (or objective) and relativist (or subjective) conceptions of historical knowledge. First World War literature reflects a complex historical sensibility that is always aware of the problematic nature of historical writing. The first part of my dissertation, which considers war novels and autobiographies, proposes that the crisis in historicism, intensified by the war, propelled a search for forms that legitimize subjective and partial historical representations of the war. The first chapter considers Rebecca West’s The Return of the Soldier, R.H. Mottram’s The Spanish Farm Trilogy, Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End, and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, and argues that the manipulation of perspective in the novel emphasizes the partial and subjective quality of both fictional and emerging historical representations of the war. The second chapter proposes that the autobiographical writing of the First World War adopts a failed conversion narrative that makes visible the difficulty of narrating personal and national history simultaneously. The latter two chapters of the dissertation explore works that renovate traditional literary forms to accommodate historiographic uncertainty. Thus, the third chapter evaluates the revisions of the implicit historical framework of allegory, whether Christian or cyclical, in Vernon Lee’s closet drama Satan the Waster, David Jones’s long poem In Parenthesis, and ee cummings’s The Enormous Room. The final chapter traces the emergence of a self-conscious strain in Louis Napoleon Parker’s wartime pageantry that eventually manifests itself in Noël Coward’s Cavalcade and Virginia Woolf’s Between the Acts. In each of these instances, formal innovation, whether distinctly modern or visibly indebted to literary tradition, enables the writing of history.
NoteIncludes bibliographical references
Noteby Meghan Lau
CollectionGraduate School - New Brunswick Electronic Theses and Dissertations
Organization NameRutgers, The State University of New Jersey
RightsThe author owns the copyright to this work.