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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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EmbargoRelease after 04/30/2025
AbstractTwo technologies in the nineteenth-century drastically altered how the English saw and conceptualized reality: photography and the realist novel. Both pretended to capture an unmediated, totalizing representation, yet both were also heavily manipulated to produce particular effects and interrogate the idea of objectivity. This dissertation tracks the development of the nineteenth-century realist novel in England not through its claims to representational mimesis, but rather through its ubiquitous visual strangeness. I examine puzzling visual encounters in touchstone English novels to argue that rather than representing the world in its putative social, psychological, and historical completeness, realist novelists integrate visual strangeness into their fictions to mark the rupture and illogic existent within perceptual reality. Using psychoanalytic theories of intersubjectivity with visual culture studies, I suggest these moments are not aberrations within realism, but are essential to the development of the form. They reveal the English novel is largely about how empirical approaches to knowledge come up against the problem of subjectivity. These unassimilable, eruptive textual moments of “strange sight” reckon with difference, stage encounter, and express disillusionment with the notion that the visual can fully and cogently signify; however, they also liberate realism from merely descriptive accounts of “things as they are” and generate alternative, imaginative forms of being and knowing that are not beholden to normative epistemologies.
Degree ProgramGraduate College