The Evolution of Artificial Illumination in Nineteenth Century Literature: Light, Dark, and the Spaces in Between
AffiliationUniversity of Chester
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AbstractThis thesis concentrates on the role of artificial light in the society, culture, and literature of the nineteenth century. Technologies of illumination in this period had a great effect on how society operated and how people experienced space and reality. These effects will be studied through reference to contemporary sources, historical analysis, and literary analysis. Each chapter uses a distinct theoretical viewpoint, and maintains a focus on a particular author (where possible). In the first chapter, the role of firelight in the works of Elizabeth Gaskell is examined, using Gaston Bachelard’s ideas on fire and psychology. The second chapter focuses on the role of candlelight in the works of Wilkie Collins, using Jacques Lacan’s theories on the Gaze. Due to the density of metaphoric references to gaslight in his fiction, Émile Zola’s work is the focus of the third chapter, while Jean Baudrillard’s theories on the nature of modern reality inform the theoretical analysis. The fourth and final chapter examines electric light’s rise to prominence and the rapidly changing attitudes towards it. It was impossible to limit this chapter’s study to only one author, so instead attention is paid to how electric light transitions from a fantastical technology to something real; this is done through a close examination of the early Science Fiction of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, before the study moves to examine the realism of E.M. Forster and Edith Wharton. The theoretical background of this chapter is informed by a combination of previously covered theory, with attention also paid to posthumanism. The thesis identifies a number of trends and developments in the relationship between light and literature. It notes how artificial light created a space symbolically independent of light and dark, as well as elaborating on each light source’s individual symbolism. It also documents the relationship between artificial light and the transition of society and culture into modernity; it outlines the development, and cultural acceptance, of the notion of a technologically connected society and consumerism. Perhaps most importantly, this study identifies a psychological connection between literature, light, and the individual, and examines the representation of such a concept in the symbolism and metaphor of artificial light.
CitationLeahy, R. (2016). The Evolution of Artificial Light in Nineteenth Century Literature (Doctoral dissertation). University of Chester, United Kingdom.
PublisherUniversity of Chester
TypeThesis or dissertation
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