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Title: The literary tantalus : masculine anxiety and the book, 1890-1910
Author: Whiting, Stephen
ISNI:       0000 0004 8506 0896
Awarding Body: University of Leeds
Current Institution: University of Leeds
Date of Award: 2019
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This thesis examines masculine anxiety at the fin-de-siècle in response to changing literary and social dynamics. The work operates at the intersections of Victorianism, feminism, men's studies and book history. Broadly, my thesis examines the way fin de siècle literature reflected growing anxiety surrounding constructions of masculinity, mapping this on to representations of the 'book,' of reading and of writing. The first chapter on George Gissing's New Grub Street (1891) examines the way that anxieties surrounding the literary mass market and the male author were located against a backdrop of fears around syphilitic infection to encode the novelist in a binary of fallen woman and diseased Magdalen. The second chapter examines how Thomas Hardy's depiction of Sue Bridehead's reading in Jude the Obscure (1895) displaces the titular character from his own eponymous narrative, showing in the hermeneutic method of Sue's reading an ability to read (and undermine) wider gender discourses. The third chapter locates H. G. Wells' The Time Machine (1895) amidst the revolutionary changes in the science world, notably the birth of modern physics. Through the image of the unreadable "book of nature" embedded within representations of reading-as-observing, this chapter examines the anxious transition from a determinist classical mechanics to a modern physics with uncertainty and unreadability at its very core. The final chapter foregrounds the "literary tantalus" in Wells' social comedies, Kipps (1905) and The History of Mr Polly (1910). Following the promise of the Education Act of 1870 to not only increase literacy but improve social mobility, this chapter examines the way that books as objects of social progression and as symbols of transcendent experience remain tantalisingly out of reach of the novels' lower-middle-class men.
Supervisor: Mullin, Katherine Sponsor: University of Leeds
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available