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Day, Catherine (2009) ON PAYING ATTENTION: PARTICULARITY IN VICTORIAN FICTION AND EMPIRICAL THOUGHT. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation is an examination of particularity in Victorian fiction, biological science, and empirical philosophy. Focusing on works by Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, George Eliot, John Stuart Mill, and Walter Pater, this study shows how Victorian writers sought to engage their readers with the seemingly insignificant details of ordinary life—as a way of troubling conventions and habits of thought that deaden human existence and as a means of inciting human capacities of thought, feeling, and imagination. These writers, I argue, shared a common conviction that the challenges of modern social, political, and intellectual life could only be met through a closer engagement with the unnoticed specifics of everyday life. In some cases, these texts bring a heightened attention to the aesthetics of material life (as we see in Bleak House, Marius the Epicurean, or even The Origin of Species). In other cases, it is a greater sympathetic notice of the details of human nature (as in Bleak House and Daniel Deronda). In still other cases, it is a matter of bringing intellectual notice or scientific analysis to the seemingly irrelevant specifics of social and natural life (as we see in On Liberty or The Origin of Species). Recent literary critical scholarship on the Victorian period, shaped by twentieth-century poststructuralist thought, has shown a lack of interest in the era's own self-estimation—in a sense of purposefulness integral to the major literary, scientific, and philosophical works of the day. In correction to this criticism, I read the primary texts of this dissertation as purposive, as seeking to have some effect upon the minds of their readers and the conditions of their historical present. At the same time, I read these works as textual performances, and argue that their discursive form is a central component of the moral, intellectual, or political interventions they aim to make in their contemporary moment.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee CoChairArac,
Committee CoChairBove, Paulbove@pitt.eduBOVE
Committee MemberClarke, Ericeclarke@pitt.eduECLARKE
Committee MemberLennox, Jamesjglennox@pitt.eduJGLENNOX
Committee MemberJudy, Ronaldbuchnfar@pitt.eduBUCHNFAR
Date: 9 June 2009
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 9 December 2008
Approval Date: 9 June 2009
Submission Date: 21 March 2009
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > English
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Charles Darwin; Charles Dickens; empiricism; George Eliot; John Stuart Mill; novel; science; Victorian; Walter Pater
Other ID:, etd-03212009-162947
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 19:32
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:37


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