Unnaturalism: British Literary Naturalism Between the Wars
|Wilson, Sara Curnow
|My dissertation explores a turn in British literature back toward naturalism in the late modernist period, a literary move I call unnaturalism to refer to the way it resembles but deviates from the classic naturalist tradition of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. In the 1930s, Virginia Woolf, Samuel Beckett, Jean Rhys, and George Orwell separately play with the form that can best merge literature and politics. The resulting novels—The Years (1937), Murphy (1938), Good Morning, Midnight (1939), and Coming Up for Air (1939)—might not all look like naturalism, but they share a concern with determinism and social conditions, a tendency toward extreme external detail, and an engagement with contemporary scientific and medical discourse. Socially and politically engaged, these writers work to expose the mechanics behind the ‘natural’ order and reveal social determinism misrepresented as biological determinism. Rather than work to disprove or deny this way of understanding the world, the novels of my study complicate all singular understandings of human development. In short, these writers recover naturalist conventions in order to expose a functional determinism that is not rooted in biology—is not, in another word, natural—but rather constructed and reconstructed by contemporary discourses. By focusing on the details of the immediate, individual experience of women and economic or national outsiders, unnaturalists seek a more accurate presentation of the deep inequalities of society and the forces that keep them in place. In The Years, Woolf focuses on the way women continue to be limited by social norms despite the women’s rights developments of the early twentieth century (the professions were unbarred in 1919 and the Representation of the People Act of 1928 provided women with the same suffrage terms as men). In Murphy, Beckett gestures toward the growing field of experimental psychology, revealing the determinist assumptions on which the field relies. Rhys reveals similar assumptions in popular male depictions of women in Good Morning, Midnight as she addresses and revises Sigmund Freud’s “Femininity” and James Joyce’s Ulysses. Orwell looks at politics and language itself in Coming Up for Air, turning to sensory description as a way of working within a language tradition that he sees as keeping in place an anachronistic class system.
|Temple University. Libraries
|Theses and Dissertations
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|Unnaturalism: British Literary Naturalism Between the Wars
|Brivic, Sheldon, 1943-
|Logan, Peter Melville, 1951-
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