The novel as imaginative order

Poovey, Mary Louise, Department of English, University of Virginia

During the last half of the eighteenth century the "false dawn of Sensibility" gave way to the unmistakable light of Romanticism. But as poetry flourished through lyric intensity, the novel evolved into the apparently vitiated Gothic romance. Although the Gothic mode has recently received much attention, the place of the historically defined group of novels in the genre's development still needs to be examined. Emerging from a discussion of the novel's characteristic ability to develop the temporal relationship between the exterior world of concrete possibilities and the interior world of abstract ideals, this dissertation focuses on the Romantic novelists' attempts to adapt the inherited form of prose fiction to a new vision of the individual's relation to the world. As the Romantic validation of subjectivity challenged the Augustan conception of society, the conventions developed to articulate that conception no longer adequately formulated man's most pressing concerns. Gothic novelists, intent upon reconciling radical subjectivity with the Augustan novel's concentration on social activity, attempted to plot action according to motions of the sensibility--organic imaginative order. The internal divisiveness nearly all Romantic novels suffer reveals the inherent incompatibility of the traditional novel form and Romantic epistemology; the variations of their formal and thematic chaos indicate significant stages in the dynamics of literary change.

Between Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto (1764) and James Hogg's The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824) novelists generally turned from the Augustan conception of a divinely arranged society to the organic imagination itself for the ordering principle of their works. But because they preserved the circumstantial realism inherited from the eighteenth-century novel as an arena in which to depict subjective processes, most Gothic novelists were unable to establish the complex relationship between imaginative energy and material circumstances. Attempting to dramatize motions of the sensibility in an even intermittently representational context conflates symbolism and mimesis into a chaos of "absurdity and confusion." The Gothic novel could not explore the individual's relation to empirical norms because its competing imaginative orders could not adequately formulate that relationship. It could not propose an effective model for personal integration because its concentration on interior processes led to the fragmentation of the individual psyche.

Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto and Ann Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho embody an early stage of the transition from Providential to subjective order: in both these novels conventions retained from the Augustan novel simply coexist with innovative strategies intended to explore the new conception of "reality." These novelists deal with imagination and feeling only tentatively, but in their use of the supernatural they introduce a feature that disrupts the Providential order they try to assert. In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley more successfully expresses the Romantic concern with the expressive self through an essentially symbolical mode of characterization. Frankenstein and the Monster are static, opposing facets of a single self; their bondage constitutes the history of an egotistical--hence divided--personality. Even Shelley, however, retains a sufficiently representational context to admit into the form competing dramatic modes. Matthew Lewis' The Monk and Charles Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer most explicitly demonstrate the consequences of this characteristic Gothic dilemma; viewed in relation to the form that does successfully formulate Romantic subjectivity--the lyric poem--these novels reveal the inevitable consequences of incompatible vision and form. James Hogg's Private Memoirs takes as its subject the central Gothic confusion and thus illuminates the limitations of subjective order as an organizing principle for the novel. Although Gothic features subsequently appeared in attenuated forms, the Romantic novel quickly gave way to the realistic novel, to socio-history as the basis for imaginative

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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