Reading matter: modernist short fiction and things

Gasston, Aimee (2017) Reading matter: modernist short fiction and things. Doctoral thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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Abstract

Looking at Katherine Mansfield, Virginia Woolf and Elizabeth Bowen, this thesis examines the ways in which the everyday ‘things’ of their modernist short fiction reflect the aesthetics of their creators. Looking specifically at Mansfield and snack food, Woolf and armchairs and Elizabeth Bowen and hats and gloves, it explores the ways in which each type of object models a particular way of reading. Pitched against conceptions of the novel as the most apt literary vehicle for ideas and modernism as a highfalutin and inaccessible enterprise, it argues that the modernist short story is a philosophical form which encourages revelatory reading in quotidian contexts. Through examination of the intrinsic interrelation between stories and everyday objects, each fitting ergonomically around the other in terms of their production, consumption and contents, this thesis calls for a reappraisal of the importance of the short fiction genre to the development of modernist aesthetics. It conceives of Katherine Mansfield’s short fiction as a type of literary snack: accessible, quickly consumed and working against restrictive traditions. Examining moments of snacking in Mansfield’s short fiction via Walter Benjamin’s conception of Jetztzeit (from ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’, 1940) – time that is poised, abundant and filled with potential revolutionary energy – it argues that snacks and stories allow access to the insight enabled by the ‘presence of the now’. Next, it goes on to consider how the armchair functions in Woolf’s stories as both noun and adjective; a space for reading stories and the wider world, which also encourages a democratising, amateur perspective. Employing Martin Heidegger’s concept of phenomenology as necessitated by a questioning mode of being (as set out in Being and Time, 1927), it suggests both the armchair and story as routes to authentic being. Finally, it examines Bowen’s short fiction, exploring peripheral detail as epitomised by hats and gloves as philosophical expression of her emphasis on the eccentric. Using Jacques Derrida’s notion of the parergon from The Truth in Painting (1987) as a framework for examining Bowen’s aesthetics, it establishes accessory detail in her stories as a rich and anarchic site of meaning which encourages eccentric and creative reading practices. This thesis argues that in modelling ways of reading, these modernist stories also recommend ways of being.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Additional Information: This thesis is not currently available for public use
Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
School/Department: School of Arts > English & Humanities
Depositing User: ORBIT Editor
Date Deposited: 04 Aug 2017 14:48
Last Modified: 06 Dec 2018 10:41
URI: http://bbktheses.da.ulcc.ac.uk/id/eprint/259

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