Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This dissertation illustrates the changes that have occurred in the representation of community from the publication of Henry Fielding's Joseph Andrews in 1742, through Jane Austen's Persuasion (1818) and George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss (1860), to the appearance of E.M. Forster's Howards End in 1910. Using the theories of Richard Rorty's Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity and Ernesto Laclau's and Chantal Mouffe's Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, the dissertation argues that not only ideological harmony but also difference - violence, antagonism, the clash of vocabularies - constitute the community. As a result, social and communal space is never, to use the words of Laclau and Mouffe, "fully sutured." The essential unity for which community strives is perpetually denied. The thesis discusses the solutions each author employs to bridge this fundamental gap and traces the growing awareness of community as an object influenced by difference.
In Joseph Andrews, where Fielding attempts to defend the values of a status quo corrupted by the elites who most profit by it, the proper community is understood to resist difference. But the actions of the novel's characters, who often take matters into their own hands to establish the communal "law," tell a different story. Joseph's and Parson Adams's willingness to employ force to achieve their ends results in a kind of "irregular justice" that overlies community values and demonstrates the need for individual action to maintain that community.
Similarly, Jane Austen regards individual action as necessary for the life of the community. She goes even farther, however, by accepting the implications of this view: that communities are made, not simply inherited. In this way she is more like the Romantics than is generally assumed. George Eliot continues where Austen leaves off. Having assimilated Austen's insight regarding the artificial, fabricated nature of communities, Eliot seeks a method to overcome the disjunction between the ideas of the past and the ideas of the present. She recommends that imagination serve as the individual's tool for smoothing the bumps of disagreements between vocabularies. Maggie Tulliver adopts this advice; the rest of her community does not and fails her as a result. Finally, Howards End presents a community that is entirely self-constructed, one without the tensions suffered in the earlier novels between the established order and individual desire. The novel completes the redescription of community the other novels begin. Forster consequently celebrates difference and attempts to enshrine it by "only connecting" the novel's various vocabularies. If he rightly suggests the degree to which community, as a constructed object, relies on individuals, he perhaps exceeds his reach by proposing that "connection" somehow escapes ideology. Even so, Howards End gathers within itself the concerns of the three previous novels and demonstrates what Rorty, Laclau and Mouffe assert: that community cannot evade the individual's contribution. The definition of any given ommunity is constantly in play.
Gessell, Douglas Gordon, "Only Connections: The Representation of Community in Four English Novels" (1995). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 3503.