Date of Degree

6-2021

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

English

Advisor

Caroline Reitz

Committee Members

Nancy Yousef

Talia Schaffer

Subject Categories

Continental Philosophy | Literature in English, British Isles | Theory and Philosophy

Keywords

Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Wilkie Collins, Oscar Wilde, Emmanuel Levinas, Literary Realism

Abstract

“Vulnerability: Sensation and Subjectivity in the Late Victorian Novel” explores how developments in the science of psychology in the second half of the nineteenth century destabilized the genre of literary realism in Britain. Prominent mid-Victorian psychologists theorized a subject with a highly impressionable brain and nervous system. This new understanding of the mind’s potential vulnerability to external influence impelled contemporary novelists to contemplate the extent to which subjective interiority could be altered by the environment. Through close readings of canonical realist novels like Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss and Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone, this dissertation argues that major Victorian writers produced literary works in which a distinction between subjective interiority and the environment is rendered meaningless. Finally, this dissertation locates in the renaissance of British Gothic literature at the end of the century an attempt to recuperate the subject – to allow, for instance, Dorian Gray to excise precisely those aspects of himself that might be warped beyond recognition by his environment.

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