Absent Company: Elegiac Character In The Novels Of Faulkner And Woolf

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This dissertation examines the work of William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf through a formal lens that allows us to look beyond their differences in culture and nationality to what I argue is their shared fascination with the elegy. In taking up the elegy Faulkner and Woolf also rewrite the genre, using the novel to offer pointed critiques of the poetic tradition in three distinct stages of elegiac reinvention. In the first, Faulkner and Woolf abandon the pastoral elegy's single narrative in favor of several competing narratives; in this they use to their advantage what Bakhtin calls the novel's heteroglossic capacity. In the second stage, the authors foreground the voices of the dead and thus draw attention to the way the traditional elegy silences the elegiac subject. In a final manipulation of elegiac convention, Faulkner and Woolf blur the distinction between the elegist and the elegiac subject through a series of character doublings, and in doing so they renegotiate the terms of the protagonist's position in the modernist novel. Like the subject of the first chapter, The Sound and the Fury, which revels in the different voices of its elegists, Woolf's The Waves, the subject of Chapter Two, stresses both the harmony and the dissonance in the mourning hymn of its six speaking characters. In the third chapter, I analyze the surprising eruption of the voices of the dead in Jacob's Room and As I Lay Dying, voices that challenge the eulogies of the other characters. In the final chapters of the project I shift from the novel's contribution to the elegy to the way in which elegy rewrites the terms of the modern novel. Woolf's and Faulkner's use of the elegy in Mrs. Dalloway and Go Down, Moses, respectively, enables the authors to change the dynamic between protagonists and minor characters, keeping the elegiac subject at the center of the story, but attending to the voices of the elegists who remain, warily, on the margins of the narrative.

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elegy; Faulkner; Woolf


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Hite, Molly Patricia

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Attell, Kevin D.
Gilbert, Roger Stephen
Mao, Douglas

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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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