Another Mediocrity: Victorian Realism and Local Detachment
Abstract: What do we mean when we call something "mediocre"? Why do we notice
the normality of certain novelists, genres, and people - and why do we then give it a label
that sets it apart from other types of literary and cultural convention? This dissertation
answers these questions by exploring the work of three "mediocre" Victorian realists:
Anthony Trollope, Elizabeth Gaskell, and George ... read moreMeredith. It argues, in turn, that their
"mediocre" engagement with literary and social convention is actually an indication that
these authors are rehearsing the norm in subtly unconventional ways. By defining
"mediocrity" as a technical term and engaging with recent rationalist discourse around the
notion of detachment, I argue that adhering to the rules of cultural form can actually
produces "local" spaces of insight and agency. I locate examples of this kind of isolated,
un-heroic, even accidental critical space in The Eustace Diamonds, North and South, and The
Egoist. And while I admit that "local" detachments cannot rival the "cultivated" forms of
rational distance recently theorized by other critics, I argue that learning to recognize
them allows us to better appreciate the abnormality within the "everyday." For the
particular novelists I study, it also allows us to grasp the ways in which they participate
in the larger, non-representative project of Victorian realism, and it gives us new methods
for reading the social and cultural conventions practiced by the many "mediocre" characters
who populate their fiction.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Tufts University, 2017.
Submitted to the Dept. of English.
Advisor: Joseph Litvak.
Committee: Sonia Hofkosh, John Lurz, and Helena Gurfinkel.
Keyword: English literature.read less
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