Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Comparative Literature


Giancarlo Lombardi

Committee Members

John Brenkman

Jerry Carlson

Subject Categories

Comparative Literature | Film and Media Studies | Modern Literature


neorealism, narrative, cinema, antonioni, joyce, woolf


This dissertation explores the relationship between narrative modes in cinema and literature and adopts the lineage laid out by Lukács that connects the oral tradition and epic poetry to the novel. I attach art cinema to this lineage and seek to justify its position as an equally significant medium representative of the age in which it is produced. This study aims to correct one established view of film, put forth by the Frankfurt School, of its low value as an art form and as a site of meaning. I compare the birth of literary modernism in Britain to the emergence of neorealism in post-war Italian cinema to examine what carries over from one movement to the next, namely a preoccupation with the individual who becomes increasingly isolated from themselves and society as a result of the limiting conditions of modernity. I view the pervasive existential malaise of the 20th century as a symptom of what Lukács referred to as “a world abandoned by God” and seek to understand how different mediums reflect this issue and attempt to fill the gap. I identify a tryptic of themes – epiphany, paralysis and death – that appear across my examples from literature and cinema and I investigate what film adds to our understanding of reality and the position of the individual, as well as how it can extend beyond the reach of epic, short stories and the novel.

A “method of presence” is a term I develop to describe the ways in which certain stories reproduce an experience of reality by shunning previous action-driven narratives in favor of lingering on the small, seemingly insignificant moments that make up our day-to-day lives. I locate this technique firstly in examples from James Joyce’s Dubliners, paired with neorealist films directed by Ermanno Olmi and Vittorio De Sica, and later prove the development of this technique in literature and film, using Joyce’s Ulysses and Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, and the 1960’s trilogy of films directed by Michelangelo Antonioni “Modernity and its Discontents.” I address main strands of narrative theory to examine how the image differs from the word in its ability to signify meaning, and what effect this has on the reader or spectator. I explore thematic issues such as framing and the act of watching, the figure of the flâneur, and the role of Nature and landscapes as subjects of narratives in their own right. I build a counterargument to more limiting views of the spectator’s experience by recognizing their role as an equal co-creator of meaning, along with the director, in cinema. Finally, I use auteur theory and my case study of Antonioni to argue that it is possible to see film as a continuation of the development of narrative from epic to the novel, and that it achieves much of what these prior forms do, if not more.