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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Shocks! : trauma, detection, and supernaturalism in Algernon Blackwood Bouwman, Aveline Hilda


The small but growing body of literary criticism surrounding the fiction of Algernon Blackwood (1869-1951) tends to characterize his work as late Victorian genre fiction or “weird tales.” Indeed, most scholars situate Blackwood among the ranks of “weird fiction” writers like H.P. Lovecraft, Arthur Machen, and William Hope Hodgson. This thesis traces an alternative contextual web around his literary oeuvre, analyzing Blackwood’s prose fiction against the backdrop of the intense reinvigoration of supernatural belief during the British Occult Revival. Blackwood’s fiction registers the period’s complex interactions between occult enthusiasm and emerging psychodynamic discourses by consistently positioning the mystical and the psychological as analogues for one another. In this thesis, I focus on Blackwood’s fictional interactions with burgeoning theories of human consciousness emerging during the period, which he explores through an occult lens as well as a scientific register. Rather than cementing a dualism between scientific materialism and supernaturalism, Blackwood’s fiction demonstrates that the period’s knowledge production entails more complex exchanges between these seemingly opposed sides. From his fin-de-siècle psychic detective series John Silence to his wartime stories, Blackwood’s prose fiction displays an overarching concern with the interiority of the human mind and the limits of language. I argue that these underexamined aspects of Blackwood’s writing are best characterized as proto-Modernist, thus positing popular origins to many of the perennial themes of high Modernist literature. My thesis is organized into two sections, interposing the historical event of the Great War as the pivotal moment that occasioned a notable shift in Blackwood’s fiction towards a focus on trauma as the central object of fictional study.

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