Modernism's Critique du Coeur: the Novelist as Critic, 1885-1925

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Modernism's Critique du Coeur: the Novelist as Critic, 1885-1925

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Modernism's Critique du Coeur: The Novelist as Critic, 1885-1925 provides a new account of the modernist novel's famous inward turn toward subjectivity and language. This turn makes the novel of modernism not politically quietist, as prior scholars have assumed, but rather a unique resource for the robust criticism of ideologies that manifest themselves in language and consciousness. My thesis on the critical power of modernist novels promises to renew the theory that aesthetic autonomy is the keynote of modernist innovation. In this, I join the current re-examination of literary aesthetics' potential to do more than serve as an ideological pretext for vested social interests, as post-structuralist and Marxist theory had argued. I claim instead that the aesthetic has the potential to make its adherents critical and self-critical subjects of modernity. In two theoretical chapters, I survey the theory of the novel as it has addressed two primary issues: the cognitive power of novels to encapsulate a society's self-conception and the affective power of novels to move their readers toward social reform. In chapters that treat the writings of Walter Pater, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, and Virginia Woolf, I show how the modernist novel, by withholding obvious political referents and inhabiting the subjectivity of a central character, forces its readers into the position of textual critics. My approach to the texts of modernism is also meta-critical, examining not only their works but the body of criticism their works have generated in support of my argument that modernist fiction calls for its own critique. These theoretical and critical approaches allow me finally to make a literary-historical argument: by emphasizing aesthetic autonomy as the modernist novel's mode of radical critique, I am able to identify the under-analyzed novels of British Aestheticism's founders, Pater and Wilde, as the key Anglo novels of the late Victorian period. Their fictions of Aestheticism inaugurated the novelistic project of modernism.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2013. Major: English. Advisor: Lois Cucullu. 1 computer file (PDF); iv, 285 pages.

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Pistelli, John. (2013). Modernism's Critique du Coeur: the Novelist as Critic, 1885-1925. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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