The vision of desire : an analysis of concepts of sexual desire in the nineteenth century novel.
This thesis investigates the representation of sexual desire in the
nineteenth century novel. It explores the conjuncture of forces -
historical, social, economic, political and cultural - in which desire is
produced and defined, and the ways in which dominant representations of
desire are negotiated within fiction.
My analyses of the novels attend to the ways in which meaning is produced
in literature and the relationship between ideologies and their symbolic
representation. Primarily I address the ways in which the reader is
interpellated by the text, by all its processes of signification and the
ideological complex which produces and is reproduced by them. This
encompasses an analysis of interactions within and between levels of
discourse and the contradictions thus produced. The thesis seeks to
identify hegemonic concepts of desire, and their characteristic dictions
and grammars of representation, and to assess interactions between such
concepts and ideologies which interrogate or subvert them. Close attention
is paid to the gender and class-specific nature of representation and the
processes by which subjectivity is constructed, and this is related in
turn to the complex of ideas and associations by which desire is
negotiated within the writing.
The thesis establishes the fundamental importance of the relationship
between desire and the material and ideological conditions in which it has
existence and takes effect. It elud dates the tensi ons which exist between
conventional concepts of desire and desires for which there are no overt
or available means of fulfilment. The ways in which texts represent and
reconcile these tensions differ markedly. These differences are
articulated partly through contestations between idealist and materialist
notions of identity, partly through a contrasting use of rational and
extra-rational discourses. Through the text's special interpretation of
these relationships, dominant representations of desire are reinvested
with value or interrogated and subverted.