Date of Award

4-6-2010

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Michael Galchinsky - Committee Chair

Second Advisor

Jürgen Pieters - Committee Member

Third Advisor

Leanne Richardson - Committee Member

Fourth Advisor

Paul Schmidt - Committee Member

Abstract

Persistent Pasts: Historical Palimpsests in Nineteenth-Century Prose traces Victorian historical discourse with specific attention to the works of Thomas Carlyle and George Eliot and their relation to historicism in earlier works by Sir Walter Scott and James Hogg. I argue that the Victorian response to the tense relation between the materialist Enlightenment and the idealist rhetoric of Romanticism marks a decidedly ethical turn in Victorian historical discourse. The writers introduce the dialectic of enlightened empiricism and romantic idealism to invoke the historical imagination as an ethical response to the call of the past. I read the dialectic and its invitation to ethics through the figure of the palimpsest. Drawing upon theoretical work on the palimpsest from Carlyle and de Quincey through Gérard Genette and Sarah Dillon, I analyze ways in which the materialist and idealist discourses interrupt each other and persist in one another. Central to my argument are concepts drawn from Walter Benjamin, Emmanuel Levinas, Richard Rorty, and Frank Ankersmit that challenge and / or affirm historical materiality.

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