Date of Award

Winter 12-15-2018

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

English and American Literature

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



This dissertation examines the ways in which the unwilling male protagonists in some nineteenth- and twentieth-century novels force the narratives and the characters in them to search for alternative modes of narrative progression and story making. Through the device of the problematic male protagonist, Charles Dickens in Our Mutual Friend (1865) and George Gissing in New Grub Street (1891) throw a kink into the workings of the nineteenth-century masterplot of masculinity to destabilize its unquestioned and default status and pose questions about narrative and masculinity. These questions are picked up in the early twentieth century by Ford Madox Ford, Virginia Woolf, and Rebecca West, around the context of the first World War. Ford's two major novels respond to the advent of the new century in the form of obsessive control and denial in the unreliable first-person narration of The Good Soldier (1915) and the (temporary) acceptance of unnarratability in Parade's End (1924-1928), while Woolf in Jacob's Room (1922) and West in The Return of the Soldier (1918) present responses to masculine absenteeism in through the attempts of the women who have been left behind at the homefront to create viable narratives for themselves through possible worlds and other narrative permutations. However, for each of the writers I examine, alternative narrative modes provide only a temporary escape for the enervated and backward-looking male protagonists; each narrative reluctantly but inevitably returns to the male-protagonist-driven, forward-marching narrative mode, although with an increasingly greater awareness of the cost involved in such narrative and social traditions.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Gary Wihl

Committee Members

Guinn Batten, Melanie Micir, Erin McGlothlin, Vincent Sherry,


Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.7936/33x5-hx69

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