The self as history : studies in Adams, Faulkner, Ellison, Belyj, Pasternak

Hedin, Anne Miller, Department of English, University of Virginia
Kellogg, Robert, Department of English, University of Virginia

These five American and Russian modernist novelists and autobiographers are grouped because of their pursuit of a common literary aim: the need to reconceive the representation of character in accord with a critique of Romantic individualism. The following works are analyzed in this light: The Education of Henry Adams, William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, Andrej Belyj’s Petersburg, and Boris Pasternak's Doktor Živago. The thesis proposes that each author makes communal history the central constituent of personal identity (and thus of character); the structure of experience in these works is historical, not persona!, given, not improvised. However, the history which character internalizes contains serious breaks or fault-lines which are faithfully reproduced in the fragmented identities of the protagonists. The most common device for representing character in this dilemma is a radical reworking of the Romantic convention of the doppelgänger. The chapters devoted to separate works concentrate on the use of the device of doubling, showing how, by borrowing from Romanticism, it retorts upon its literary source and criticizes the obsession with individual uniqueness, while also tracing fragmented modern identity to an historical crisis which broke the organic relationship of self and contemporary society which character represented in the nineteenth-century realistic novel. Adams, Faulkner and Ellison take the Civil War as the breaking point in their country's history; for them the "self-made man" (or their protagonist's attempt to become one such) marks the crucial intersection between historical process and personal experience because he provides a scale model for the American experiment in democracy and rational social ordering. For Belyj and Pasternak respectively, the revolutions of 1905 and 1917 (also civil wars) appear as partial analogues for Peter the Great's Westernizing revolution and for Christ's incarnation, betrayal, and passion. Belyj and Pasternak juxtapose the charismatic figures of the social revolutionary and the "holy fool" (jurodivyj) of the Russian Orthodox kenotic tradition. The juxtaposition explores the conflict between worldly and other-worldly striving, between individualistic and archetypal conceptions of selfhood. Introductory and concluding chapters attempt briefly to place these five writers within their respective literary traditions and to draw some tentative connections between American and Russian novelists' concern with giving form to history.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Characters and characteristics in literature, American literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism, Russian fiction -- History and criticism
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