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Title: Discourses of mourning in Dante, Petrarch, and Proust
Author: Rushworth, Jennifer Frances
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2013
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This thesis interpolates medieval and modern authors and theorists, namely Dante, Petrarch, and Proust on the one hand, and Freud, Kristeva, and Derrida on the other. I propose that these writers are intimately connected and differentiated by their meditations on grief and loss. I compare, confront, and contrast these narratives of mourning in a discursive shuttling to and fro between medieval and modern, French and Italian, and literature and theory, in order to delineate the specificities of different forms of melancholia as legible in Dante’s Commedia, Petrarch’s Canzoniere, and Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu, and as illuminated by Freudian melancholia, Kristeva’s Soleil noir, and Derrida’s concept of ‘demi-deuil’. I challenge the homogeny of the modern concept of melancholia and juxtapose it with the medieval sin of acedia in Dante (Inferno VII) and Petrarch (considering both the Secretum and the Canzoniere). From the examples of the treatment of the myth of Orpheus and the book of Lamentations, I argue that discourses of mourning are trapped in a fruitful tension between a desire for uniqueness or originality and a desire for legibility or the comfort of communality. In Girardian terms, I define literary representations of mourning as ‘mimetic’, that is, caught in a web of intertextual imitation and preoccupations of genre and tradition which are at odds with a quest for new forms of writing. Finally, I contend that the relationship between content and form is particularly close in grief-stricken texts, and characterise my chosen primary texts – including Dante’s Vita nuova – according to the twin poles of endlessness (which I equate with melancholia) and finitude (the teleological, closed nature of the work of mourning), with a Derridean alternative of unstable oscillation between the two (‘demi-deuil’).
Supervisor: Gragnolati, Manuele ; Maclachlan, Ian Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Italian ; French ; mourning ; melancholia ; Dante ; Petrarch ; Proust ; Derrida ; Freud ; Kristeva