The Not So Great House: Domestic Space, Subjectivity, and Homecomings in the English Modernist Novel

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It has become something of a standard refrain to say that modernity has experienced a break with the home: “The house was no longer a home” (Anthony Vidler), “Dwelling, in the proper sense, is now impossible” (Theodor Adorno), “We children of the future, how could we be at home in this today?” (Friedrich Nietzsche), “The house is far away, it is lost, we inhabit it no more; we are, alas, certain of inhabiting it never again” (Gaston Bachelard), “Homelessness is coming to be the destiny of the world” (Martin Heidegger), and the list could go on. Applying these claims to English Modernist novels, The Not So Great House moves through literary expressions of homelessness to propose a means of affecting a homecoming against the odds. Making use of the duality of unheimlich—being at once familiar and strange—along with the ideal of liminal space and the commutable relationship between bodies and their spaces, I argue that for Modernity, the sense of being at home comes from a paradoxical harmony in which the house is both hostile and welcoming, the subject both absent and present. Modern subjectivity, if it is to have a formal analogue through architecture, requires one that is fragmented, one that has gaps where reality has worked its way through. I offer the great house, stripped of its greatness, as that analogue for early 20th-century England. Taking Georg Lukács's theory of the novel as a formal expression of “transcendental homelessness” as a starting point, I outline an architecture of homelessness as expressed by spaces in a text, focusing on architecture’s psychological effects on subjectivity and on the qualities necessary to create the essential home, that space which can sustain life and, indeed, teach one how to live. Using readings from E.M. Forster, Evelyn Waugh, D.H. Lawrence, John Galsworthy, and Virginia Woolf, I propose that the novel ultimately offers insight beyond the scope of either history or architecture alone into the problem of how to be, and how to “be at home” in a time of homelessness.

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English literature; Home; architecture; literary theory; Modernism


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Hanson, Ellis

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Hite, Molly Patricia
Attell, Kevin D.

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English Language and Literature

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Ph.D., English Language and Literature

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Doctor of Philosophy

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dissertation or thesis

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