The "Knockings and Batterings" Within: Late Modernism's Reanimations of Narrative Form
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This dissertation corrects the notion that fiction written in the late 1920s through the early 1940s fails to achieve the mastery and innovation of high modernism. It posits late modernism as a literary dispensation that instead pushes beyond high modernism's narrative innovations in order to fully express individuals' lived experience in the era between world wars. This dissertation claims novels by Elizabeth Bowen, Evelyn Waugh, and Samuel Beckett, as exemplars of a late modernism characterized by invocation and redeployment of conventionalized narrative forms in service of fresh explorations of the dislocation, inauthenticity, and alienation that characterize this era. By deforming and repurposing formal conventions, these writers construct entirely new forms whose disfigured likenesses to the genres they manipulate reveals a critical orientation to the canon. These writers' reconfigurations of forms--including the bildungsroman, the epistolary novel, and autobiography--furthermore reveal the extent to which such conventionalized genres coerce and prescribe a unified and autonomous subjectivity. By dismantling these genres from within, Bowen, Waugh, and Beckett reveal their mechanics to be instrumental in coercing into being a notion of the subject that is both limiting and delimited. These authors also invoke popular forms--including the Gothic aesthetic, imperial adventure narrative, and detective fiction--to reveal that non-canonical texts, too, participate in the process by which narrative inevitably posits consciousness as its premise. I draw upon Tyrus Miller's conception of late modernism to explicate how these authors' various engagements with established forms simultaneously perform immanent critique and narrative innovation. This dissertation also endorses David Lloyd's assertion that canonical narrative forms are instrumental in producing subjectivity within text and thereby act as a coercive exemplar for readers. I invoke several critics' engagements with conventional genres' narrative mechanics to explicate this process. By examining closely the admixture of narrative forms that churns beneath the surfaces of these texts, I aim to pinpoint how the deformation of conventionalized forms can yield a fresh and distinctly late modernist vision of selfhood.