Alumni Dissertations and Theses

 
 

Alumni Dissertations and Theses

Filter Dissertations and Theses By:

 
 
  • "I Will Not Call Her Servant": Ambiguity and Power in Master-Servant Relationships in the Eighteenth-Century Novel

    Author:
    Ruth Garcia
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Rachel Brownstein
    Abstract:

    Abstract "I Will Not Call Her Servant": Ambiguity and Power in Master-Servant Relationships in the Eighteenth-Century Novel By Ruth Gladys Garcia Advisor: Professor Rachel M. Brownstein This dissertation posits that domestic servants in domestic novels are primarily characterized by an ambiguous and varying identity. I argue that the servant's ambiguity and multiplicity blur, undermine, reverse, and alter the boundaries and even the hierarchy of the master-servant relationship, granting the servant an unrecognized form of power. The history of service and the family, and conduct books written for servants, reveal that servants exist on the cusp of boundaries: the master-servant relationship is intimate and yet distant and official; servants are in the family but not of the family; they are not of the master's class but exist within that social milieu. Moreover, in the long eighteenth century, changes in the family and in service were altering the cultural understanding of those already blurry boundaries. Using the historical and social background as lenses through which to begin reading servants in fiction, this dissertation explores how the necessity and availability of multiple roles gives these figures the ability to usurp the master's power. This function of the servant is especially important in novels of the late long eighteenth century (1794-1814), during the period of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era when the servant becomes a real, rather than an imagined threat. The family, and attacking or protecting its traditional hierarchy, becomes particularly important during this period. Pairing radical and conservative authors who portray servants similarly, my project implicitly questions the usefulness of these categories to describe works and authors. This dissertation investigates various subversive uses of servant ambiguity in William Godwin's Caleb Williams (1794) and Maria Edgeworth's Castle Rackrent (1800); Mary Wollstonecraft's The Wrongs of Women: or, Maria (1798) and Amelia Opie's Adeline Mowbray (1805); and Edgeworth's Belinda (1801) and Jane Austen's Mansfield Park (1814). Both Bruce Robbins in The Servant's Hand: English Fiction from Below (1986) and Julie Nash in Servants and Paternalism in the Works of Maria Edgeworth and Elizabeth Gaskell (2007) suggest that the central servant characters seen in eighteenth-century novels disappear or become gentrified and indistinguishable from their masters in nineteenth-century novels. The trajectory of this project, which finds increasingly successful uses of the servant's social ambiguity, suggests that servants remain present and central in the novel, and that the servant position is a source of power even for a heroine of a higher class.

  • "The Wounds Become Him": Sacrifice, Honor and the Hazard of Much Blood in Shakespeare's Roman Plays

    Author:
    Louise Geddes
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Richard McCoy
    Abstract:

    The project centers around representations of the martyred body in Shakespeare's Roman plays, and focuses on the ambiguous nature of ceremony, to consider the way ritualized presentations of the body complicate, undermine, or oppose the language used to represent the body. For Shakespeare's sources, dying in the high Roman fashion was valorized as a deed strengthening the social body of Rome, but for Shakespeare, such a manner of death acquires a Catholic, Eucharistic aspect that is exposed as grotesque and bathetic. What emerges in each play is a struggle between the visual spectacle of onstage violence and refining speech. In Shakespeare's Rome, violence elicits an expectation of social purification, and Shakespeare's refusal to provide this redemption makes the violence that we do see all the more repulsive. By looking at Shakespeare's depiction of Rome in these tragedies, we can trace a loss of confidence in the efficacy of sacrifice in the wake of its growing politicization within the early modern English community. The grisly accounts found in John Foxe's Actes and Monuments illustrate the contradiction that Shakespeare strives to expose in his Roman plays: that, following their public deaths, martyrs were assigned a voice that was startlingly similar to the role of the saints in Catholic iconography. Characters who assume that they alone can define the meaning of their own sacrifices are exposed by Shakespeare as naive and foolish because their deaths and injuries are exploited by canny survivors and opportunists with greater theatrical skill. Shakespeare is skeptical about the glory awarded to Roman "martyrs" and the facility with which opportunists turn them into "the noblest Roman[s] of them all" (Julius Caesar 5.5.68). In spite of the fact that the spectacular violence inflicted upon Lucrece, Lavinia, Caesar, Cleopatra and Coriolanus renders these characters figures of public veneration, the plays destabilize the control of what they create through an emphasis on the ambiguities of visual interpretation. The image of bloodied flesh onstage is found to be disturbingly powerful, and "speaks" to the audience in a manner that paradoxically transcends spoken language, denying the victims the right to control the interpretation of their death, and turning religious death into a political commodity.

  • "The Wounds Become Him": Sacrifice, Honor and the Hazard of Much Blood in Shakespeare's Roman Plays

    Author:
    Louise Geddes
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Richard McCoy
    Abstract:

    The project centers around representations of the martyred body in Shakespeare's Roman plays, and focuses on the ambiguous nature of ceremony, to consider the way ritualized presentations of the body complicate, undermine, or oppose the language used to represent the body. For Shakespeare's sources, dying in the high Roman fashion was valorized as a deed strengthening the social body of Rome, but for Shakespeare, such a manner of death acquires a Catholic, Eucharistic aspect that is exposed as grotesque and bathetic. What emerges in each play is a struggle between the visual spectacle of onstage violence and refining speech. In Shakespeare's Rome, violence elicits an expectation of social purification, and Shakespeare's refusal to provide this redemption makes the violence that we do see all the more repulsive. By looking at Shakespeare's depiction of Rome in these tragedies, we can trace a loss of confidence in the efficacy of sacrifice in the wake of its growing politicization within the early modern English community. The grisly accounts found in John Foxe's Actes and Monuments illustrate the contradiction that Shakespeare strives to expose in his Roman plays: that, following their public deaths, martyrs were assigned a voice that was startlingly similar to the role of the saints in Catholic iconography. Characters who assume that they alone can define the meaning of their own sacrifices are exposed by Shakespeare as naive and foolish because their deaths and injuries are exploited by canny survivors and opportunists with greater theatrical skill. Shakespeare is skeptical about the glory awarded to Roman "martyrs" and the facility with which opportunists turn them into "the noblest Roman[s] of them all" (Julius Caesar 5.5.68). In spite of the fact that the spectacular violence inflicted upon Lucrece, Lavinia, Caesar, Cleopatra and Coriolanus renders these characters figures of public veneration, the plays destabilize the control of what they create through an emphasis on the ambiguities of visual interpretation. The image of bloodied flesh onstage is found to be disturbingly powerful, and "speaks" to the audience in a manner that paradoxically transcends spoken language, denying the victims the right to control the interpretation of their death, and turning religious death into a political commodity.

  • Agreeable Despair: Modernism and Melancholy

    Author:
    Derrick Gentry
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Mary Ann Caws
    Abstract:

    This study considers a group of distinctly modernist philosophers for whom aesthetic and reflective practices represented a way out of the paralysis of a culture dominated by narrowly conceived philosophical values. These modernist philosophers, I argue, helped to give birth to mode of experimental writing that Robert Musil called "essayism." I begin in Chapter One with an account of Walter Benjamin's experimental concept of melancholy and its intersection with the avant-garde practices of French Surrealism. Chapter One begins to contrast Benjamin's concept of melancholy with Friedrich Nietzsche's therapeutic efforts to transform and overcome melancholy on both a personal and a cultural level. Chapter Two changes course to pursue a comparative study of Nietzsche and his contemporary, William James. I treat them as proto-modernist philosophers whose efforts to overcome philosophy and replace it with experimental writing are intimately connected with their experimental concepts of melancholy. The efforts of James and Nietzsche represent what I see as an important bridge between Ralph Waldo Emerson's radical re-conceptualizing of melancholy and later modernist experimental writing. Before turning to Emerson, I read (in Chapter Three) Freud's 1915 essay "On Transience" alongside Virginia Woolf's essay "On Being Ill" and James's "Will to Believe." Chapter Four then focuses on Emerson's essay "Experience" as an anticipation of Nietzsche's concept of experimental writing, as well as a watershed moment in the long history of thinking about melancholy. Chapter Five reads Nietzsche's Ecce Homo as (in many respects) the ultimate Emersonian text, as well as something of a failed experiment. The study concludes with a series of close readings of Swiss writer Robert Walser, who inspired Max Brod to write: "After Nietzsche, there had to be Walser." I examine the ways in which Walser pursues the implications of Nietzsche's thought at the same time he explores quite different alternatives. Walser, I argue, is an example of a melancholy modernist who successfully converts philosophy into a form of experimental writing. By the end of the study, I hope my account of a modernist melancholy provides a context that sharpens our sense of how difficult it is to come "after Nietzsche."

  • "Making the Devil Useful": English Teachers and the Movies in America, 1910-1941

    Author:
    Mikhail Gershovich
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    George Otte
    Abstract:

    From its earliest stages of development in the late 1800s, the academic discipline of English has been characterized by a split into two distinct, variously valued academic activities. The putative "high" side of the binary, the teaching and study of works of literature, has traditionally been privileged as the true, noble calling of the discipline, while the "low" side, composition, has functioned as the service sector of the field, serving to acculturate beginning writers to official, authorized conventions of written discourse. English, as bifurcated as it is, has by and large had a fairly long, healthy and quite productive relationship with the movies, having meaningfully incorporated film on either side of the composition/literature split. The cultural relevance and pedagogical possibilities of film have even from very early on intrigued enough teachers and scholars to merit a substantial degree of attention to both the film medium and film-based approaches to teaching both literature and composition in well-known professional publications like The English Journal and The Educational Screen. From the 1910s, narrative fiction films have served as an adjunct for literary study or even as an object of analysis itself, on the one hand, and as a heuristic of various sorts for composition instruction, on the other, at both the secondary and post-secondary levels. This dissertation, then, considers the varied ways in which American teachers of English responded to and integrated commercial theatrical films into writing and literature curricula from the 1910s through the decline of the film appreciation movement in the early 1940s in the wake to a shift in the focus of American education from Progressive educational priorities to the pragmatic needs of a country at war. It explores contemporary professional and popular discourses around film and pedagogy that reflected, animated, and problematized classroom practice during this period. It presents a critical reception history of film in English as animated by implicit preoccupations with, among others, questions concerning textuality, art, literariness, subjectivity, spectatorship, cultural value, social hygiene, and democratic action that informed classroom practice and professional discourses on movies within English curricula through the start of World War II.

  • "Making the Devil Useful": English Teachers and the Movies in America, 1910-1941

    Author:
    Mikhail Gershovich
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    George Otte
    Abstract:

    From its earliest stages of development in the late 1800s, the academic discipline of English has been characterized by a split into two distinct, variously valued academic activities. The putative "high" side of the binary, the teaching and study of works of literature, has traditionally been privileged as the true, noble calling of the discipline, while the "low" side, composition, has functioned as the service sector of the field, serving to acculturate beginning writers to official, authorized conventions of written discourse. English, as bifurcated as it is, has by and large had a fairly long, healthy and quite productive relationship with the movies, having meaningfully incorporated film on either side of the composition/literature split. The cultural relevance and pedagogical possibilities of film have even from very early on intrigued enough teachers and scholars to merit a substantial degree of attention to both the film medium and film-based approaches to teaching both literature and composition in well-known professional publications like The English Journal and The Educational Screen. From the 1910s, narrative fiction films have served as an adjunct for literary study or even as an object of analysis itself, on the one hand, and as a heuristic of various sorts for composition instruction, on the other, at both the secondary and post-secondary levels. This dissertation, then, considers the varied ways in which American teachers of English responded to and integrated commercial theatrical films into writing and literature curricula from the 1910s through the decline of the film appreciation movement in the early 1940s in the wake to a shift in the focus of American education from Progressive educational priorities to the pragmatic needs of a country at war. It explores contemporary professional and popular discourses around film and pedagogy that reflected, animated, and problematized classroom practice during this period. It presents a critical reception history of film in English as animated by implicit preoccupations with, among others, questions concerning textuality, art, literariness, subjectivity, spectatorship, cultural value, social hygiene, and democratic action that informed classroom practice and professional discourses on movies within English curricula through the start of World War II.

  • The Dramatic Milton

    Author:
    William Goldstein
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Joseph Wittreich
    Abstract:

    Abstract The Dramatic Milton By William W. Goldstein Advisor: Joseph Wittreich Thomas De Quincey in 1852 remarked upon the excellence of Milton's Samson Agonistes as an example of Greek tragedy, writing, "I am satisfied that Milton meant him to dance." De Quincey is a touchstone within a broadly theatrical history of Samson Agonistes and Milton's poetic career that this dissertation, combining archival research, textual analysis and performative theory, makes a first effort to establish. I chronicle the extensive, largely unexamined performance history of Samson Agonistes in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, demonstrating that productions have been intricately entwined with an expansion of the Elizabethan and international dramatic canon spearheaded by leading theater artists, in the process transforming contemporary understanding of the political and cultural possibilities of theater. Key productions, I argue, stand in the history of Milton criticism as a harbinger of hermeneutics, as directors and actors lead anew in performance, offering an unexplored body of critical inquiry and interpretation prefiguring critical debates about Milton and his work. I expose the shadows of dramatic traditions in Milton's biblical poetry, including the influence of English religious drama that has been almost completely neglected, and examine the question of Samson's heroism in the context of Greek epic, particularly as it informs Milton's choice of tragedy as the genre for Samson Agonistes. I further foreground how Milton's life-long interest in the drama shaped his career as a poet. Exposing the echoes in Samson Agonistes of Milton's earliest works and influences, I argue there is a theatrical structure to Milton's 1671 volume, which is the culmination of the career prophesied by poems Milton wrote nearly a half-century earlier, such as On Shakespeare, On the Morning of Christ's Nativity and Lycidas. Reading them through the prism of Milton's 1671 volume reveals that the latter work represents what might be called the theatrical afterlife of Milton's beginnings as a poet. Stressing the continuity of Milton's poetic language across time, I argue that links between his 1671 volume and his 1645 Poems of Mr. John Milton reveals a career encircled and defined, at first and near its end, by the dramatic Milton's engagement with theatrical metaphors and concerns.

  • Crossing the Line: Kathy Acker, William S Burroughs, and the Politics of Piracy

    Author:
    Sean Grattan
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Peter Hitchcock
    Abstract:

    "Crossing the Line: Kathy Acker, Williams S. Burroughs and the Politics of Piracy" investigates Kathy Acker and William S Burroughs' insistence that pirates and acts of piracy are models for political action in late capitalism. Acker and Burroughs' later texts, Don Quixote, Empire of the Senseless and Cities of the Red Night and Ghosts of a Chance respectively, use pirates as both aesthetic and narrative tropes. I seek to show that Acker and Burroughs' use of pirates is an attempt at fashioning a wide-ranging critique of late capitalism and changing and expanding forms of control and power. The pirate, for Acker and Burroughs, becomes a figuration, a vessel, for the re-imagining of a politically active, restive, mode of being. By investigating the role of piracy in their texts, I open a space of discussion that highlights Acker and Burroughs' commitment to revolutionary politics indebted to their deep belief in the power of literature to shape and engender communities. The literary enunciation of affective communities illuminates the gap between literature and theory. Acker and Burroughs maintain the importance of affect in human relations. In other words, in the face of what Fredric Jameson labels the waning of affect under late capitalism, Acker and Burroughs posit highly charged affective relationships between people.

  • The Switch: Freedoms in Sexuality, Desire, Gender, and Identity

    Author:
    Lesley Graydon
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Lyn Di Iorio
    Abstract:

    The broad aim of my dissertation is to expand the horizon and discourse of variant gender and sexual identities and practices through introducing the theoretical model, practice, and typology of the switch and switching; radical acceptance, understanding, and a new theory emerge. This emergence has the added impact of immediately and powerfully validating people's lives and experiences; by extension, the possibility for all to live with greater freedom, self-expression, and authenticity in exploring and playing with identity, desires, roles, and practices is established. My specific focus is to look at and celebrate non-normative/variant gender and sexual identities. My specific aim is to reveal where and how gender and sexual variants create, revise, redefine, and play with language, roles, desires, bodies, public and private sex practices and identity in the action known as "switching." To switch, and the process of engaging in the action of switching, can most broadly be described as dwelling in, and having the intention of, honoring, exploring, and sharing different, switchable aspects of a state of being, idea or concept, person, persona or character. I am looking at the intersecting practice of non-normative gender, sexual, and identity switching that all of my experimental authors and their characters play with. Gertrude Stein, Jeanette Winterson, Kathy Acker, Eileen Myles, Anne Carson, and Anne Carson's translation of Sappho all demonstrate switching. The identities deconstructed in this dissertation create and give space to, by their playful and exploratory nature, a great deal of gender, sexual, and identity play and masquerade (whether they are stable or in flux); they elicit openings, possibilities, and ambiguities in writing, reading, deconstructing and recreating gender identifications, sexual identities, sex and gender roles, subversive and perverse practices, as well as subcultural and personal practices. Thusly, my project has a simple foundation: it is grounded in the possibility that anything is possible and that every one of us lives a life of full self-expression and freedom.

  • Creative Nonfiction: Chasing Its Own tale

    Author:
    Isabel Grayson
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Sondra Perl
    Abstract:

    Abstract Creative Nonfiction: Chasing Its Own Tale By Isabel Grayson Advisor: Professor Sondra Perl This dissertation explores the theory, history, and criticism of creative nonfiction to foreground the issues of truth in personal writing. My thesis focuses on memoir and personal essay and asks whether creative nonfiction can deliver on its promise, whether it can lay bare the bones of nonfiction using creative tools. I explore how authors problematize truth in their works and what challenges creative nonfiction writers and readers to trust the truth of self in texts. I examine the pitfalls of creative nonfiction - what gives it an unreliable reputation in some circles and why its ethics are questioned. Creative nonfiction pilfers from genres that also pilfer from one another so that it lives in a borderland of shifting boundaries that defy neat categorization. At the heart of my project, I offer evidence that creative nonfiction can be as authentic as the "self-evacuated prose of western epistemology" (Bishop 34), for self, truth and the world mirror one another, tell the truth on one another as they shape and reshape one another with time. This messy movement and plasticity can be more honest than some distilled truth that unrealistically offers an ironclad meaning behind the curtain of objectivity or omniscience. With self's face in front of each word in creative nonfiction, the "I" stands honest, putting truth where its mouth is, holding the self accountable, reminding us, lest we forget, a being with all its desires, hatreds, memories, narratives, biases is, after all, honestly in everything we write and read. Truth then becomes human. This dissertation argues with the first person singular and creative nonfiction for the first person singular and creative nonfiction as a valid means of truth/knowledge-making in our personal essays, and finally in our students' writing. In short, this project chases the tale of creative nonfiction through the centuries.