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Title: Writing against theodicy : evil, secular ethics, and Victorian realism
Author: Pollatschek, Nele
ISNI:       0000 0004 7653 9301
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2018
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This thesis contributes to the ongoing work of rethinking the relationship between secularization and literature by exploring the ways in which three mutually influential authors - James Anthony Froude, Arthur Hugh Clough, and George Eliot - struggled with theodicy. The term theodicy describes a response to the problem of evil in which God's justice is maintained despite the apparent existence of evil. Because theodicy discourse tends to present suffering as reconcilable with divine goodness, it is frequently considered unethical. Avoiding theodicy is therefore desirable, particularly for those invested in secular ethics. That realism fosters secularity has often been claimed - by Martha Nussbaum, George Levine, Bruce Robbins, for example - and this thesis asks whether, as has also been suggested, realist literature urges readers away from theodicy. Previous studies of theodicy in literature have focused on religious authors; this study takes the opposite approach, looking at authors commonly associated with secularization to highlight the difficulties of staying true to a secular project and the pull towards religious patterns of signification which even realist literature exhorts. Before turning to Victorian writers, the thesis sets up a historical and philosophical context of theodicy discourse from Leibniz and Pope to Voltaire, Goethe, and Coleridge, differentiating between three types of evil (moral, metaphysical, physical) and two types of theodicy (Augustinian, Irenaean). The Victorian authors on which the thesis focuses were chosen because of their role in narratives of secularization and because they are each preoccupied with a different kind of evil, thus their writing exemplifies different kinds of struggle with theodicy. The thesis concludes that while literature, particularly where it claims to represent reality, gravitates towards theodicy, authors and critics can yet foster resistance to those patterns. Rather than trusting formal realism to urge readers away from theodicy, those who want literature and its criticism to champion secular ethics would be well advised to pay renewed attention to those aspects of literature which pull towards religious significance, and the strategies used to resist them.
Supervisor: Perry, Seamus Sponsor: Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich Studienwerk
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: English literature