NARRATIVES OF IRONY: ALIENATION, REPRESENTATION, NARRATIVES OF IRONY: ALIENATION, REPRESENTATION, AND

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  • NARRATIVES OF IRONY: ALIENATION, REPRESENTATION, AND ETHICS IN CARLYLE, ELIOT, AND PATER

    by

    Amy L. Cook

    B. A. in Linguistics, University of Oregon, 1995

    M. A. in English, Portland State University, 1999

    Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of

    Arts and Sciences in partial fulfillment

    of the requirements for the degree of

    PhD in English Literature

    University of Pittsburgh

    2007

  • UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH

    ARTS AND SCIENCES

    This dissertation was presented

    by

    Amy L. Cook

    It was defended on

    July 30, 2007

    and approved by

    Eric O. Clarke, Associate Professor, Department of English, University of Pittsburgh

    Troy Boone, Associate Professor, Department of English, University of Pittsburgh

    Philip E. Smith, Associate Professor, Department of English, University of Pittsburgh

    Laura Callanan, Assistant Professor, Department of English, Duquesne University

    Dissertation Director: Eric O. Clarke, Associate Professor, Department of English, University

    of Pittsburgh

    ii

  • NARRATIVES OF IRONY: ALIENATION, REPRESENTATION, AND ETHICS IN

    CARLYLE, ELIOT, AND PATER

    Amy L. Cook, PhD

    University of Pittsburgh, 2007

    In this study I argue that Victorian writers Thomas Carlyle, George Eliot, and Walter Pater

    participated more fully than has previously been acknowledged in the aesthetic and ethical

    concerns surrounding romantic irony as it was articulated by philosophers such as Friedrich

    Schlegel and Søren Kierkegaard. In opposition to a twentieth-century critical trend that has

    tended to applaud German romanticism for its progressive insights, and dismiss nineteenth-

    century British texts as “regressive,” I show how three key Victorian texts recognized,

    articulated, and sought to negotiate the phenomenon of irony. More specifically, I show that the

    ironic features of Carlyle’s The French Revolution: A History, Eliot’s Romola, and Pater’s

    “Denys L’Auxerrois” are closely connected to the authors’ concerns with, and attempts to

    formulate, a model of ethics in the face of the metaphysical indeterminacy that is a central

    feature of romantic irony.

    In Carlyle’s The French Revolution: A History, I show how the narrator maps a gulf

    between language and referent onto a gulf between the social classes represented by the

    Sansculottes and the Girondin. This association of semiotic and political fragmentation suggests

    that for Carlyle, irony remained an external phenomenon, which may help explain why he sought

    an external solution to the chaos of the revolution by invoking the military force of the hero. In

    Eliot’s Romola, I suggest that the sudden appearance of allegory toward the end of this otherwise

    iii

  • realist novel serves as an indirect presentation of the heroine’s ethical transcendence. The

    temporal nature of allegory reflects the novel’s formulation of ethics as a process of forming

    character through repeated habits of action and thought—a process that recalls Kierkegaard’s

    association of repetition with ethical choice. In Pater’s “Denys L’Auxerrois” I show that the

    ability of art objects to conjure up living presence is presented ironically through a series of

    framing devices. This irony is closely connected to Pater’s formulation of ethics as a matter of

    character-building through aesthetic exposure, but like Eliot and Kierkegaard, Pater presents this

    ethical model in an indirect aesthetic mode. This study helps deepen critical understanding of

    irony, ethics, and representation in Victorian texts.

    iv

  • TABLE OF CONTENTS

    1.0 AN IRONY DEFICIENCY? ....................................................................................... 1

    1.1 INTRODUCTION ............................................................................................... 1

    1.2 GERMAN ROMANTIC IRONY: AN OVERVIEW ....................................... 3

    1.2.1 Irony and the Self.......................................................................................... 4

    1.2.2 Irony and Modernity .................................................................................... 6

    1.2.3 Irony and Ethics............................................................................................ 9

    1.2.4 Irony and Representation........................................................................... 13

    1.2.5 Irony as Self-Creation and Self-Destruction ............................................ 18

    1.3 RELEVANT CRITICAL STUDIES................................................................ 22

    1.4 METHODS......................................................................................................... 30

    1.5 LIMITATIONS.................................................................................................. 32

    1.6 AN OVERVIEW OF FINDINGS..................................................................... 33

    1.7 SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY ................................................................. 35

    2.0 “THE FRIGHTFULLEST THING EVER BORN OF TIME”: IRONY AND

    HISTORY IN THE FRENCH REVOLUTION......................................................................... 37

    2.1 INTRODUCTION ............................................................................................. 37

    2.2 IRONIC HISTORIOGRAPHY........................................................................ 40

    2.3 METAPHYSICAL IRONY AND SOCIAL CLASS ...................................... 60

    v

  • vi

    2.4 THE HISTORIAN AS AGENT........................................................................ 70

    2.5 THE PARADOX OF THE HERO ................................................................... 76

    3.0 “THIS TRANSCENDENT MORAL LIFE”: IRONY, ALLEGORY, AND

    ETHICS IN ROMOLA ................................................................................................................ 85

    3.1 INTRODUCTION ............................................................................................. 85

    3.2 IRONY IN ROMOLA ........................................................................................ 87

    3.2.1 Irony and the Novel .................................................................................... 87

    3.2.2 Irony and Historical Moment .................................................................... 89

    3.2.3 Irony and the Reflective Consciousness.................................................... 92

    3.2.4 Irony and Narrative Form ......................................................................... 98

    3.3 REPETITION AND THE ETHICAL IN ROMOLA .................................... 108

    4.0 “THROUGH THE EYE AND EAR”: IRONY AND EKPHRASIS IN “DENYS

    L’AUXERROIS”....................................................................................................................... 119

    4.1 INTRODUCTION ........................................................................................... 119

    4.2 IRONY AND EKPHRASIS ............................................................................. 122

    4.3 EKPHRASIS AND PRESENCE IN “DENYS L’AUXERROIS” ................ 130

    4.4 PATER’S MORAL AESTHETIC.................................................................. 147

    5.0 CONCLUSION......................................................................................................... 161

    BIBLIOGRAPHY..................................................................................................................... 166

  • 1.0 AN IRONY DEFICIENCY?

    Philosophy is the real homeland of irony.

    —Friedrich Schlegel, Critical Fragment 42

    1.1 INTRODUCTION

    Many critical theorists have noted similarities between the metaphysical and aesthetic concerns

    of early German romanticism (Frühromantik) and those of twentieth century Anglo-American

    and French literary theory.1 In this strand of criticism it has become a commonplace to remark

    1 For example, Daniel O’Hara, observes: “clearly, Derrida’s playful demystification, his hermeneutics of suspicion, owes a great deal to Friedrich Schlegel’s paradoxical depiction of romantic irony as permanent parabasis” (364). Similarly, in their introduction to The Literary Absolute, Phillipe Lacoue-Labarthe and Paul Nancy write: “What interests us in romanticism is that we still belong to the era it opened up. . . . A veritable romantic unconscious is discernable today, in most of the central motifs of our ‘modernity’” (15). Gary Handwerk explains his interest in Schlegel in similar terms: “Schlegel anticipated many of the themes central to current critical debate, such as the relations between discourse and authority, or between subject and community” (18). Andrew Bowie, Azade Seyhan, and David Simpson have devoted entire books to the relationship between German Romanticism and twentieth-century criticism. Anne K. Mellor and E. Warwick Slinn, though they both point out differences between irony and deconstruction, still fi