Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program

English and American Literature


English (en)

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Marina MacKay


Cultural Transmission in the Age of Modernism: Mentorship in the Novel, 1890-1960 considers how education reform impacted modernist questions about the transmissibility of culture. Beginning with the institutionalization of universal education in the late nineteenth century and ending with the nationalization of education in the immediately postwar period, this dissertation considers specifically the relationship between educational policy and the possibility of institutional cultural transmission. Focusing on the novelists Thomas Hardy, E.M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, and Muriel Spark, I suggest that modernist-era writers were concerned as to whether or not Oxbridge could: or should) preserve and transmit the version of liberal-humane culture that had long been associated with the universities. Beginning to doubt whether the experience of education accurately reflected a transmissible culture at all, these writers articulate the difficulty in handing down culture by turning to unforgiving depictions of the figure historically tasked with cultural preservation: the mentor. Since mentors traditionally encouraged personal achievement through the affirmation of particular cultural values and traditions, they effectively represent the culture they are intended to impart; the incremental failure of mentorship in the novel thus indicates an increasing sense that culture can no longer be passed on.


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