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Title: Chance in the modern British novel, 1945-1978
Author: Jordan, Julia Emily
Awarding Body: University of London
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2008
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Chance, and its representation in literature, has a long and problematic history. Our human instinct to rationalize chance, and thereby to impose order on the disorder of life, is threatened by the meaninglessness implied by pure randomness. And yet chance is also evocative of rationality: if we can order life into mathematical probabilities, then uncertainty itself becomes that which mediates experience, rationalizes it, and offers an explanation for events. In this sense, our distrust of randomness finds its best expression in the artistic impulse: the human need to impose order on disorder, and form on reality, thus always speaks of the desire to suppress contingency. This paradox, which lies at the heart of literary representations of chance, forms the basis of this study, which addresses questions of chance and the aleatory in novels by four mid-twentieth century writers: Samuel Beckett, Henry Green, B. S. Johnson and Iris Murdoch. I argue that chance's significance for the novel of this period (1945-1978) is closely connected with other developments in the culture of the time: existential philosophy's preoccupation with questions of chance and possibility, the avant-garde's increasing elision of chance and randomness with formal experimentation, and an increasing movement, amongst writers such as Samuel Beckett and Henry Green, away from authorial omniscience and omnipotence and towards an acceptance of the contingent and the partial. The growth of the aleatory technique in art in the sixties, influenced by the Dadaists, in part grew from this new idea of chance, and the way that writers reconfigured their engagement with related concepts. In this way, chance became allied with attempts to reinvigorate the novel form. Chance's representation in narrative manifests itself variously as a concern with causality, contingency, and as a formal engagement with randomness. Throughout the thesis I address the complex ways these ideas become encoded into the construction of texts. The saturation of the literary culture with depictions of, and anxieties about, chance at this time, eventually represents an age-old battle between freedom and determination, recast as a mid-twentieth century refiguring of the relationship between author and narrative.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available