Anxious inheritance: Family, legacy, and intimacy in modernist fiction
This dissertation examines models of inheritance in twentieth century novels which oppose an economic model of lineage and familial association. Rather than depicting inheritance in terms of the transference of money and property, John Galsworthy, D. H. Lawrence, Gertrude Stein, and Djuna Barnes mobilize aesthetic alternatives. Organized according to an increasingly avant garde representation of the family, the texts I treat ultimately move towards symbolic and associative constructions of lineage in resistance to their nineteenth century literary predecessors who frequently depict families in terms of problematic primogeniture. The modernist authors I explore offer alternative conceptions of legacy and unconventional predecessors.
I begin with Galsworthy's The Forsyte Saga, in which the author depicts a seemingly conventional family that eventually resists primogeniture as its basis for familial association; the Forsyte family concludes, at the end of the trilogy, that assets should be willed in accord with intimacy rather than male blood right. In my chapter on Lawrence's The Rainbow and Sons and Lovers, I turn the concept of family legacy and genealogy towards the agrarian, and suggest that familial intimacy within multiple generations is fostered by a connection to the seasons and to the material results they produce, where the earth becomes the central familial predecessor. In The Making of Americans and “Composition as Explanation,” Stein destabilizes the notion that there is one family story by depicting the “family” as a linguistic construction, modified according to each family member's memory. The families in her novel strive for an American national identity and democratic educational opportunities allied with Stein's democratic use of language wherein each part of speech and each character's version of family history is equal to the others. Barnes troubles the basic notion that family genealogy and its dynamic is exclusively human and cerebral in Nightwood and Ryder. She offers a new account of human history—one that turns to the animal and to love for an individual's knowledge of personal history, and posits an animal history as the predecessor of the human.
British and Irish literature
0591: American literature
0593: British and Irish literature