Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • The Open Wound: Writing Black Female Bodies

    Author:
    Stacie McCormick
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Barbara Webb
    Abstract:

    This study explores the various methods that black women writers use to depict the black female body in pain. Elaine Scarry's The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World theorizes that pain has a language-destroying power and that it often defies expression. Thus, I will argue that in endeavoring to express pain, the writers examined in this study utilize the creative process to work around the barriers presented in the effort to express pain. I discuss various creative approaches that the writers under discussion take up and what results from those approaches. Works examined in this study include: Suzan-Lori Parks' Venus, Robbie McCauley's Sally's Rape, Octavia Butler's Kindred, Toni Morrison's Beloved, Gayl Jones' Corregidora, Edwige Dandicat's Breath, Eyes, Memory, Saidiya Hartman's Lose Your Mother and Jamaica Kincaid's The Autobiography of My Mother. The collection of writers that I have assembled for this analysis write the black female body into visibility, narrativize the history of black women's bodies in the West, and illustrate the difficulty in expressing black women's pain. This project will take on a multi-genre approach which includes drama, novels, and non-fiction prose by black women writers. I not only intend to analyze the function of the written word in these works, but with respect to drama, I will analyze how the black female body is presented on stage. Also, I will explore how non-fiction deepens our understanding of fictive works. A multi-genre approach allows for an understanding of how black women's bodies are depicted from several vantage points. In addition to analyzing various approaches to expressing pain, I will consider how these works prompt deeper thought on various theoretical notions such as: the difficulty inherent in rendering experiences of pain into language and the implications of doing so, and whether or not there is potential for healing the historical wounds by grappling with these experiences of pain.

  • "'The Naked Gospel': Varieties of American Religious Poetry, From Richard Henry Dana to Herman Melville

    Author:
    Mark McCullough
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    David Reynolds
    Abstract:

    "'The Naked Gospel': Varieties of American Religious Poetry, From Richard Henry Dana to Herman Melville" examines the term "religious" in nineteenth-century America poetry. Without ignoring the enormous influence of European and British Romanticisms, it positions a rich but neglected body of nineteenth-century American religious verse vis-à-vis American commentary and criticism of the period. It surveys attempts by nineteenth-century American editors and writers to collect and represent a native religious verse and outlines the standards by which an American poem was judged as "religious." These judgments, my study argues, reflect how deeply rooted Romantic thought had become in American denominational identity, even before the influence of Emerson on American culture was widespread, and reveal the extent to which temperament, not theology, was the shared interpretive frame for the selection, as well as the production, of American religious poetry. In light of these views of the period's interpenetration of Romantic thought and American religious identity, my study examines further the verse of three Americans who were identified by their contemporaries as "religious" poets: the contemplative verse of Calvinist-Romantic Richard Henry Dana, the devotional lyrics of Quaker John Greenleaf Whittier, and "The Cathedral," James Russell Lowell's poem which, in narrating a pilgrimage to Chartres, depicts the collision between the ecclesiastical imagination of Anglo-Catholic poetics and the iconoclasm of modern skepticism. Selected for their commitment to an established faith-tradition (Calvinism, Quakerism) or, in the case of "The Cathedral," a recognizable "indebtedness to the faith...eschewed" (Anglo-Catholicism), these religious poems resist the dichotomy between tradition and insight, or the easy passage from doctrine to imagination, and seek insight through available forms of Christian tradition, though not without great difficulty. In keeping with the desire to discuss nineteenth-century American religious verse within an American context, I call upon James, whose work Varieties supplies my study with a critical vocabulary, a structure, and an interpretive frame. Like the religious anthologies outlined in my introduction, James' discussion of religious experience is a compendium of Christian temperaments not theologies, "ways of feeling" religious, not "spiritual." Two of these temperaments, "the sick soul," and "mysticism," along with what James identified as the twin ends of the "ecclesiastical system" and "naked gospel scheme," provide a structure for my study's individual chapters.  

  • Gracious Affections: Affect and the Rise of Evangelicalism in Early America

    Author:
    Neil Meyer
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    David Reynolds
    Abstract:

    In this dissertation I build on current theorists of affect in order to critically foreground the centrality of embodied religious experience in the spread of evangelicalism through the eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century United States and the larger Atlantic world. I argue that the social and embodied religious practices within evangelical public spaces altered the writing and reading practices of evangelicals in the early republic by attempting to recreate, but also limit, the powerful and embodied religious feelings created within those spaces. This dissertation is structured around the writing and embodied practices of lay publics who were animated by the ecstatic religious experiences found at revivals and other religious gatherings and the work of ministers who sought to both propagate and control that energy through the authority of the clergy. By bringing the fields of literary studies, religious history, queer theory, and theories of affect into conversation around evangelicalism, this dissertation revises the conventional wisdom of American religious history, and offers new ways to understand evangelicalism's complex influence on early American writing practices and the greater culture at large.

  • Everyday Masochisms: Charlotte Bronte, George Moore, D.H. Lawrence, and Jean Rhys

    Author:
    Jennifer Mitchell
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Richard Kaye
    Abstract:

    This dissertation argues for the magnitude of a critical literary period in the development and exploration of theories about masochism. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth-century, discourses about sexuality become more publicly accessible. Circulating ideas by sexologists Richard von Krafft-Ebing and Havelock Ellis, and psychoanalysts like Sigmund Freud, encourage a public conversation about sex, desire, and identity. Both novelists and their readers find themselves in a groundbreaking space that fosters a rethinking of sexual selfhood. Instead of relegating masochism to institutions, brothels, and case studies, Charlotte Brontë, George Moore, D.H. Lawrence, and Jean Rhys provide representations of masochism that are far more ordinary, surfacing in various everyday experiences. I analyze the existence of different portrayals of masochistic relationships: courtships and partnerships in Villette (1860), unrequited lesbian desire and its reincarnation as religious zeal in A Drama in Muslin (1886), surprisingly dynamic marital partnerships in The Rainbow (1915), and an adulterous love triangle in Quartet (1928). I begin with a reading of the Biblical story of Samson and Delilah in conjunction with Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's foundational Venus in Furs in order to develop and contextualize a transhistorical masochistic lineage. Finally, this project looks ahead to Ian McEwan's TThe Comfort of Strangers (1981), which notably returns to the enactment of more literal sadistic and masochistic fantasies, furthering emphasizing the unique literary approaches to masochism covered by the four main authors in this project.

  • "IT WAS EASY": HOW AMERICAN CULTURE TURNED THE VETERAN INTO THE MAN, 1944-1959

    Author:
    Erin Mock
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Marc Dolan
    Abstract:

    When millions of GIs returned in 1945, Americans tried to establish a brand new era, infused with optimism and prosperity, in which the war was decidedly over. In historic numbers, Americans married, had children, and purchased goods and homes, but they did so while mostly concealing their fear that the war was not over, at least not in the psyches of men. As such, the protection of society from men was the central concern of postwar American culture. Many scholars and historians have studied "shellshock," which illustrates this dangerous potential turned inward, but the apocalyptic possibilities of an entire generation of men erupting in violence are rarely commented upon, though they are quietly ever-present in period. Furthermore, this terror of veterans deepened into a generalized fear and suspicion of men's "inherent" violence and hyper-sexuality, which defined masculinity thereafter. This dissertation engages with film, media, literature, earlier treatments of the period, and gender and sexuality studies to advance a new perspective on the artistic and cultural output of and about the "Greatest Generation," arguing that anxiety about men's violent and erotic potential emerged differently in different forms, genres, and media, but nonetheless permeated American culture in these years.

  • Embedded Forms and the Progressive Wonders of The Winter's Tale

    Author:
    Emily Moore
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Richard McCoy
    Abstract:

    Written in an age of theatrical experimentation, The Winter’s Tale stands out even amid the lively playhouse practices of its day for its allusions to multiple genres, ranging from the overt theatrical genres of tragedy and comedy, to contemporaneous subgenres such as pastoral tragicomedy and masque, to non–theatrical entertainments such as bearbaiting, broadside ballads, and statue–viewing. While prior critics have treated the play’s numerous generic allusions in isolation, this dissertation reads The Winter’s Tale as a progression of embedded forms meant to condition a sequence of affective and increasingly interactive audience responses, thus preparing Shakespeare’s audience for the redemptive, participatory wonders of the final act. My three chapters trace Shakespeare’s evocation of tragic tropes and rigid pageantry in the first half of the play; his nods to raucous, contemporaneous forms such as bearbaiting and pastoral tragicomedy in Acts III and IV; and the fading, nostalgia–inducing miracle plays and “old tales” he uses to frame the wonders of Act V. I argue that, through this progression, Shakespeare rejects the tyrannical, controlling visions of Leontes in favor of the participatory marvels of Act V, dismissing rigid, patriarchal forms such as Leontes’ show trial while ultimately elevating generative, interactive, feminine forms such as Marian miracle plays and old wives’ tales. Reading The Winter’s Tale as a late career ars poetica designed to test and reinvigorate the theatrical faith of Shakespeare’s audience, my dissertation explores the sprawling yet rigorous poetic logic behind the play’s generic mixing.

  • Amiri Baraka and Edward Dorn: The Collected Letters

    Author:
    Claudia Moreno Pisano
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Ammiel Alcalay
    Abstract:

    Amiri Baraka and Edward Dorn: The Collected Letters presents the correspondence of twentieth-century American poets Edward Dorn and Amiri Baraka (formerly LeRoi Jones) between the years 1959 and 1965. Having seen several poems of Dorn's in various small literary magazines, Baraka began writing to him with praises and a request for poems for his own magazine, Yugen. During this time, Dorn lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico and then Pocatello, Idaho, while Jones lived in New York City. The major basis of their relationship, and these letters, is undoubtedly an artistic one, the early 1960s finding both poets just beginning to publish and becoming active, public figures. With the sense of art as not only a valid but a necessary means of grappling with and understanding both the beautiful and the horrific in the world fueling each poet, the letters become both reflection and place of creation, the ground upon which to experiment. Baraka's independent magazines Yugen and The Floating Bear and independent publishing house Totem Press were key in providing space for numerous artists from several different strands in the late 1950s and into the 1960s. He published two of Dorn's poetry collections through Totem/Corinth presses, and saw several of Dorn's poems into print in both Yugen and The Floating Bear. These two little magazines became focal points for mid-century artistic ferment, publishing new, highly outspoken and radical poets from all over the U.S. This publishing space helped break down the geographical and human isolation in which so many of these poets found themselves, which is part of the story of Dorn and Jones's friendship itself. If we think of a text as defining political boundaries and providing historical continuity, these letters constitute the history of these poets and their times better than many other forms of documented history. As both historical and autobiographical lens into two key writers at the very pulse of the turbulent cultural and political happenings of mid-century America, these letters reveal an extraordinary snapshot of American identity and history.

  • The Grammar of Choice: Charles Dickens's Existential Idea of Religion

    Author:
    Hai Na
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    David Richter
    Abstract:

    This dissertation challenges the received opinion that Charles Dickens's religious thinking is merely sentimental and philanthropic. Instead, I argue that there is in his works a very consistent "existential" sense of religion, especially in his mature novels. To be religious for him does not lie in the adherence to dogma or the study of theological arguments, but in the crucial choices people make every day. In order to illustrate this "existential" sense of religion, I analyze, in the first chapter, relevant works by Kierkegaard, Carlyle, George Eliot, and Dostoevsky, in order to establish the context in which Dickens's religious views can be discussed. In the second chapter I examine him in the context of twentieth-century writers such as Sartre and Camus to underscore Dickens's existential modernity. The central argument of this chapter is that the very possibility for characters to make a choice is rendered difficult by the widespread loss of faith. Two novels deal with this issue in particular: David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities.The third chapter begins by examining the choice of good versus evil, which is shown to be a very complex issue for Dickens, even in his early works. Then I proceed to discuss the implications of this choice and conclude that knowingly to choose evil over good constitutes "sin" for Dickens, as he demonstrates in Dombey and Son.The last chapter focuses on Dickens's last published novel Our Mutual Friend and discusses the possibility of free choice, a religious issue complicated by the implications of Darwinian evolution.

  • Beyond Agency: Women Writing Romance as Political Intervention in the English Revolution

    Author:
    Kathryn Narramore
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Carrie Hintz
    Abstract:

    This project examines four sub-aristocratic seventeenth-century women who wrote romance and historical narrative as political interventions during the social upheaval of the English Revolution: Judith Man defends Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, to Parliament in her translation, An Epitome of the history of faire Argenis and Polyarchus (1640), of a French abridgement of John Barclay's Argenis; Suzanne Du Verger advocates for Catholics in her two translations of Jean-Pierre Camus' French romances, Admirable Events (1639) and Diotrephe (1641), as well as in Du Verger's Humble Reflections (1657), a vitriolic response to Margaret Cavendish's The World's Olio (1655); Anne Bradstreet rejects English "romance" for New English history in The Tenth Muse (1650); and Anna Weamys reexamines women's political roles in her royalist yet moderate A Continuation of Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia (1651). In order to reconstruct the political contributions of each author to their varied political causes, I examine the conversations between their texts and paratexts, how their books speak to and for their authors' social positions, their revisions of the uses of romance, and their political subtexts. Each woman belonged to a class that had unusual access to the aristocracy because of their service to noble families, although they themselves had no real claim to titles or were gentry. They adapt the genre of romance, which had been so often used as a discourse of aristocratic display, for their own political purposes, which range from defending Catholicism to revising the Puritan Plymouth Bay Colony's approaches to internal dissent. I argue that these authors sought agency to redress political grievances rather than to achieve authorship. When seen together, these texts constitute a new involvement for sub-aristocratic women in imaginative literature, one that continues after the Restoration.

  • Exquisite Corpses: Fantasies of Necrophilia in Early Modern English Drama

    Author:
    Linda Neiberg
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Mario DiGangi
    Abstract:

    My dissertation examines representations of necrophilia in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama. From the 1580s, when London's theatres began to flourish, until their closure by Parliament in 1642, necrophilia was deployed as a dramatic device in a remarkable number of plays. Exquisite Corpses analyzes the relationship between the English Reformation's abolition of the doctrine of Purgatory and obsequies for the dead, and the frequent, often eroticized representations of dead bodies in the commercial theatre. Despite Protestant iconoclasm, "the cult of the cadaver," as Eamon Duffy refers to it, was not readily relinquished and remained indelible in the cultural imagination. My project expands the definition of necrophilia beyond sexual intercourse with corpses, and builds on current uses of the word by early modern scholars to include all eroticism that occurs within the vicinity of death and dead bodies in English Renaissance drama, all eroticism that cannot be understood without considering the role death plays in its formulation. During this same period, human dissections were publically performed more frequently and anatomical discoveries were published for lay as well as professional audiences. Outbreaks of the plague and public executions likewise kept the dead in intimate proximity to the living. I argue that the confluence of religious, anatomical, and punitive discourses contributed significantly to the eroticized depictions of corpses in early modern drama. Central to this study is my observation that the sex/death nexus is about the flesh. As theologians and polemicists argued, lust is born in, expressed through, and ultimately corrupts the flesh; similarly, many discourses concerned with what "dead" meant posited that death was defined by the decay of the flesh. In other words, flesh conjoins the erotic and the thanatotic. Thus, to understand the eroticization of corpses, and the ways in which corpses influenced the shaping of erotic subjectivities, is to better understand how early moderns conceived of eroticism, death, and mortal flesh. To demonstrate my argument, I use a cultural historicist approach underpinned by psychoanalytic and gender theories and analyze plays that illustrate particularly well the conjunctions between sex and death and their relationship to subject formation. My intervention opens promising new models for understanding the reciprocal relationship between death and erotic subjectivity. As the first book-length study on necrophilia in early modern drama, it foregrounds several dramas that interrogate key cultural concerns about intimacies between the living and the dead.