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Cook, Amy L. (2007) NARRATIVES OF IRONY: ALIENATION, REPRESENTATION, AND ETHICS IN CARLYLE, ELIOT, AND PATER. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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In this study I argue that Victorian writers Thomas Carlyle, George Eliot, and Walter Pater participated more fully than has previously been acknowledged in the aesthetic and ethical concerns surrounding romantic irony as it was articulated by philosophers such as Friedrich Schlegel and Søren Kierkegaard. In opposition to a twentieth-century critical trend that has tended to applaud German romanticism for its progressive insights, and dismiss nineteenth-century British texts as "regressive," I show how three key Victorian texts recognized, articulated, and sought to negotiate the phenomenon of irony. More specifically, I show that the ironic features of Carlyle's The French Revolution: A History, Eliot's Romola, and Pater's "Denys L'Auxerrois" are closely connected to the authors' concerns with, and attempts to formulate, a model of ethics in the face of the metaphysical indeterminacy that is a central feature of romantic irony.In Carlyle's The French Revolution: A History, I show how the narrator maps a gulf between language and referent onto a gulf between the social classes represented by the Sansculottes and the Girondin. This association of semiotic and political fragmentation suggests that for Carlyle, irony remained an external phenomenon, which may help explain why he sought an external solution to the chaos of the revolution by invoking the military force of the hero. In Eliot's Romola, I suggest that the sudden appearance of allegory toward the end of this otherwise realist novel serves as an indirect presentation of the heroine's ethical transcendence. The temporal nature of allegory reflects the novel's formulation of ethics as a process of forming character through repeated habits of action and thought—a process that recalls Kierkegaard's association of repetition with ethical choice. In Pater's "Denys L'Auxerrois" I show that the ability of art objects to conjure up living presence is presented ironically through a series of framing devices. This irony is closely connected to Pater's formulation of ethics as a matter of character-building through aesthetic exposure, but like Eliot and Kierkegaard, Pater presents this ethical model in an indirect aesthetic mode. This study helps deepen critical understanding of irony, ethics, and representation in Victorian texts.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Cook, Amy
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairClarke, Eric Oeclarke@pitt.eduECLARKE
Committee MemberCallanan,
Committee MemberSmith, Philip Epsmith@pitt.eduPSMITH
Committee MemberBoone, Troyboone@pitt.eduBOONE
Date: 20 September 2007
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 30 July 2007
Approval Date: 20 September 2007
Submission Date: 3 August 2007
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: ekphrasis; immanence; Victorian ethics
Other ID:, etd-08032007-120918
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 19:56
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:48


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