The dialectic of self and other in Montaigne, Proust and Woolf
This thesis investigates the construction of identity in relation to an other. It considers three writers who, working at moments when the nature of selfhood was an urgent issue, conduct profound and original enquiries into the question of self- construction, and seeks both to reassess their contributions to this debate, and, in bringing their preoccupations and methods to bear upon each other, to open up new ways of approaching and reading their work. Considering a range of socio-cultural and religious forms of otherness -- the cannibal, the witch, the Jew, the aristocrat, the woman, the divine -- it embraces material from a number of important modem critical fields, and suggests how these topics might be combined to offer a coherent statement about the enduring issue of s elf- fashioning. The thesis seeks to map out a trajectory of decreasing investment in external communities, and an increasing perception of the self as a source and agent in the construction of identity. Looking in turn at the work of Montaigne, Proust and Woolf, it argues that where the Essais construct complex orders which appropriate the other to reinforce the identity of the self, Proust and Woolf increasingly, although gradually, and by no means always successfully, attempt to negotiate a less precisely- engaged relationship between other and self, and to assign the other a less constitutive role in the realization and expression of identity. The thesis also considers more briefly contexts in which this trajectory is reversed. To the extent that they examine modernist subjectivity, Proust and Woolf articulate an anxiety about the separation of self and world which leads to an attempted recuperation of the integrated orders depicted by Montaigne.