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Title: Comedy and the middlebrow novel : Elizabeth Taylor and Elizabeth von Arnim
Author: Brown, Erica Clare
ISNI:       0000 0003 5686 1945
Awarding Body: Sheffield Hallam University
Current Institution: Sheffield Hallam University
Date of Award: 2010
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This thesis examines the critical reception of the novels of Elizabeth von Arnim (1866-1941) and Elizabeth Taylor (1912-1975) as part of a 'feminine middlebrow'. They are frequently read as offering merely light entertainment and an implicit endorsement of a conservative status quo, and I argue that this is because their depiction of the pain of life and their challenges to the status quo are concealed by their use of comedy and irony. My analysis of the use of comedy offers a new understanding of these novels. Utilising Freud's theory of 'joke-work' I demonstrate that the sharing of jokes requires shared attitudes and repressions as well as shared knowledge; what Freud terms 'psychical accord'. These comedic texts, therefore, speak to a very specific community of readers, in ways that appear to elude those critics who would dismiss the novels as limited or trivial. The imagined reader of these novels is an educated, middle-class woman, and through my close reading of selected novels by von Arnim and Taylor I detail the layers of intertextuality, comedy and irony that she is expected to be able to understand and reconstruct. These novels are innovative in form. They self-consciously play with the romance and romantic comedy genres, and with specific 19th century narratives, especially those of Jane Austen and the Brontes. They utilise comedy to address profoundly serious subjects, and in the case of von Arnim's Vera (1921), innovatively synthesize comedy and horror. They build complex webs of irony that can be resistant to interpretation, particularly in Taylor's Palladian (1946), which meditates on the meaning and value of fiction. My analysis of this innovation challenges the perception of these middlebrow novels as straightforwardly realist, and shows them to be not merely light entertainment, but painfully acute commentaries on the cruel realities of domestic life, especially for women.
Supervisor: Hopkins, Chris ; Mills, Sara ; Baxendale, John Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available