Caught Up in the Arrangement: Forms of Literary Life in the Eighteenth Century

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In the eighteenth-century, the novel grew from a new medium to a dominant form of expression. This space, where readers and authors come to grips with the nature of fictionality, serves as a theoretical proving ground for New Materialist, agency-first reading practices. Caught Up in the Arrangement examines eighteenth-century literary networks within New Materialist claims about the agency of matter, applying these claims to the literary “elements” of these interrelated webs.This dissertation argues that what it terms “literary arrangements” constitute a form of life in the ways that their agency affects other arrangements of elements, how they propagate within a text and into other texts, and in their representational excessiveness—arrangements never seem to end on the page, but to extend beyond it. There is also a metacritical bend to Caught Up in the Arrangement, incorporating “subjective” viewers into “objective” critique. The literary arrangement becomes observable by the “boundary-drawing practices” (Barad) critics employ, who decide how far arrangements extend and where to snip the connections of agential relation between elements (without incorporating the observer, any single literary arrangement becomes a tiny infinity of connections). Caught Up in the Arrangement takes an unconventional approach to the literary monograph, refusing single-text or single-author chapters, instead literalizing surprising intertextual connections. Chapter 1 relies on examples in Robinson Crusoe and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s Turkish Embassy Letters to explicate the features of literary arrangements. Chapter 2 examines Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa, exploring its expansions beyond the page into surprising configurations of agency, which produce endless quantities of revisions and retellings everywhere from personal correspondence to other published texts. Chapter 3 considers how animation figures in the thinking around human bodies and, for this chapter especially, animals. Here we return to Robinson Crusoe to understand novel’s privileging of humans over animals, and how the anonymous 1797 Biography of a Spaniel conversely provides the titular spaniel with agency that propagates from the late eighteenth century to the present day. In the coda, the chiasmus figures as a microcosmic representation of literary arrangements, and we track some of its appearances over the idiosyncratic course of research.

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200 pages


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Agency; British Literature; Eighteenth Century; History of the Novel; Media Studies; New Materialism


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Union Local


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Brown, Laura Schaefer

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Levine, Caroline Elizabeth
Mann, Jenny C.
Cohn, Elisha Jane

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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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Government Document




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Attribution 4.0 International


dissertation or thesis

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