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Title: Hardy, Conrad and the senses : epistemiology and literary style in the early fiction
Author: Epstein, Hugh
Awarding Body: St Mary's University College
Current Institution: St Mary's University, Twickenham
Date of Award: 2013
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In discussions of English fiction, Hardy and Conrad are only occasionally considered together, and generally as being different exemplars of a late Victorian pessimism who give human dimension to the cosmic ironies of a world bereft of Providence. This study argues for a more vital connection than a coincidence of intellectual outlook, one that finds their fiction is generated by similar conceptions of how human beings experience and gain knowledge of the world in which they live. An epistemology of sense impressions underlies the invention of ‘fictional worlds’, the construction of characters, and the literary style of the otherwise very different novels considered here. As such, it is illuminating to explore both of these novelists in the light of the empirical scientific investigations of the nineteenth century which accorded such prominence to the function and evidence of the senses. While both authors have been the subject of several excellent studies of their relation to Darwin, such studies have tended to concentrate on biology in the case of Hardy, and have seen Conrad more in the province of metaphysics than empirical science. The originality of my study lies in its attention to physics and physiology as informing realms for fiction, not as a matter of direct influence upon the writers, but rather as conceptually and historically complementary modes of apprehending the world within which human experience takes place. Consequently, some of the work of contemporary scientists, as well as modern theorists in the fields of sensation, vision and sound, are seen to be as helpful in elucidating the sensory effects achieved in Hardy’s and Conrad’s novels as the many contemporary and modern literary critics whose work also informs this study. After an Introduction which locates Hardy and Conrad in relation to each other in terms of critical estimation, and which establishes the importance of the senses to their fiction and to their theoretical outlook as novelists, the study closely examines the modes of writing found in three sets of paired novels, exploring their individual treatment of a shared epistemology. In taking Desperate Remedies and The Rescue as often disregarded yet, in my view, foundational texts for each author, the focus is upon the phenomenology of sensation itself, with a distinction made between the outer-directed sensory field established in these novels as opposed to the inner mental world characteristic of Walter Pater which was so influential for Modernism. Both Hardy and Conrad are renowned for their visual evocations, and I take Far From the Madding Crowd and Lord Jim in order to explore each novelist’s extraordinary attention to light, and what it reveals to the eye. I argue that, unlike the later Modernists, the scenic construction of Hardy and Conrad creates occasions that exceed the perceptions of individual consciousness, which it renders as participating in a larger process of the ‘event’. Attending to the sound-world of these novels yields a different inflection of this account: The Return of the Native and ‘Heart of Darkness’ show characters surrounded by an active universe which penetrates to that which is hidden within, and the subject for portrayal is the attempt to give a human accent to phenomena that retain a mystery in their location and transmission. Throughout, both novelists are seen to have a united interest in the medium that surrounds human action and perception, but each novel examined is allowed its individuality and is not coerced into being a mere representative for a theoretical position. This is a study centred upon the early fiction, but the Conclusion proposes that Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Nostromo explore in very different ways an end-point for the novel of sensation, in which the identity of the individual self is open to absorption by the sensory qualities of the circumambient universe that it apprehends.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: 501 Natural sciences philosophy & theory ; 823 English fiction