Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
School of Education
This dissertation analyzes the appeal of things in thirties British literature. I argue that in a time in which a catastrophic and world-changing war seemed to be on the way, many writers saw seemingly unshakable material things as a source of comfort. Drawing on thing theory, I explore thirties writers' recognition of the duality of things, their alienness to human society even as people invest great significance in them. Therefore, I show that despite this frequent appeal to the material world as a place of stability and comfort, many of these writers also recognized conflicting aspects of things, knowing (and fearing) that even seemingly impenetrable things could change as the world was changing around them. Yet although furnishings such as tables and chairs could warp, decay, become lost, or perish in the bombs of war, their ultimate remoteness from human society made them appealing and seemingly safe from the traumatic political and cultural changes that seemed to be on their way.
Many critics have analyzed the importance of things to modernist writers, but few have addressed the representation of things in the works of the slightly younger generation associated primarily with the thirties--the generation of Christopher Isherwood, Elizabeth Bowen, and Evelyn Waugh. Thirties writers have long been either neglected or associated primarily with political commitments, though this has begun to change. I argue that thirties writers often position things as an alternative to politics, religion, or even ideas. Though the writers I discuss have significant differences, they share a fixation on the things that may outlive competing ideologies. Chairs, tables, and knickknacks--simple things, often ugly things, without great monetary or aesthetic value--persist after the fall or death of the people who own them and the societies in which they function.
O'Keefe, Emily, "The Things That Remain: People, Objects, and Anxiety in Thirties British Fiction" (2012). Dissertations. 374.
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Copyright © 2012 Emily O'keefe