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Title: Virtual play in the Victorian novel
Author: Gao, Timothy
ISNI:       0000 0004 7653 8894
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2018
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Novelists in the mid-nineteenth century speculated about the specificity and concreteness of their fictions, and reflected on what it meant to engage with imaginary objects and worlds. W. M. Thackeray is troubled by the novelist's capacity to 'see visions, hold conversations with, even draw the likeness of, people invisible'. Anthony Trollope has 'so realized the place, and the people, and the facts,' of the setting he invented that 'to me Barset has been a real county, and its city a real city, and the spires and towers have been before my eyes'. Charlotte Brontë's heroines always live 'two lives - the life of thought, and that of reality,' one fed with 'daily bread' and the other with 'the strange necromantic joys of fancy'. Such contemporary fascinations with the nature of fictional encounters have fared badly under the twentieth century's disenchantments with subjectivity, especially with the absorptiveness of novels as a form of potential interpolation. More recently, however, literary studies has increasingly called for other modes of critical engagement with literature than those of detachment and suspicion, suggesting instead sympathy and participation as ways to new interpretations. In particular, the work of Brigid Lowe and John Plotz have brought old critical interests back to the fore with a renewed emphasis on the immersive experience of the novel. As Nicholas Dames has argued, this emerging scholarship engages 'the challenge of exploring the unique specificities of fictional, or virtual, experiences'. Virtual Play in the Victorian Novel takes up this challenge of recovering a literary criticism of the fictional. Following the work of philosopher J. David Velleman, this project develops a method for exploring the 'virtual' experience of the novel through the heuristic of play; in particular, a historical play phenomenon documented by the biographies and juvenilia of Hartley Coleridge, Thomas De Quincey, Anthony Trollope, and the Brontë siblings. What developmental psychologists now term paracosmic play, seemingly emergent in the early nineteenth century, involves the written elaboration of complex imaginary worlds. This research into play's archives proposes how its make-believe rules, procedures, and assumptions exemplify a virtual practice, and that this practice offers new perspectives on the analogous rules that govern novel fiction. The project's chapters on Brontë, Trollope, Thackeray, and Dickens each begins by examining a documented aspect of paracosmic play (omnipotence, improvisation, affective attachment, and sensory imagination) in relation to a literary critical aspect of the novel (authorship, plot, form, and description), and each concludes with a close analysis of this relation at work in an exemplary text.
Supervisor: Russell, David Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: English literature ; Literary criticism ; Victorian literature