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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Social criticism in the English novel : Dickens to Lawrence Lendvoy, Leonard Roy

Abstract

The thesis studies the social criticism in five English novels written between 1850 and 1913. All the novels can be located in the central tradition of realistic English fiction. The thesis focuses on the thematic similarities of three Victorian novels: Great Expectations, Hard Times, and Middlemarch, and two early modern novels: Jude the Obscure and Sons and Lovers. The novels voice the authors' criticisms of social, and more specifically family, conditioning. The novelists portray the arbitrary ethical norms that define and regulate behavior within specific social environments. Each novel describes the individual's aspirations which are ultimately frustrated by external forces. Although more than half a century separates the publications of Hard Times and Sons and Lovers the critical perspectives of the novelists are essentially the same. The thesis isolates aspects of the novels which realistically portray the attitudes and values of mid and late Victorian society. One avenue of investigation discusses those institutions which enforce the prevailing social doctrine. The dramatic conflict analyzed in this thesis is often between the adolescent and characters, usually older, who personify the repressive doctrine. Much of the anxiety experienced by the protagonists is a result of the confrontation of individual desire and internalized social norms. In Great Expectations and Hard Times Dickens portrays the childhood and adolescent consciousness as it emerge's within a given moral climate. The thesis analyzes how Dickens isolates and criticizes those aspects of Gradgrindery which are dehumanizing and soul-destroying. The first chapter also compares the experiences of the protagonists in Middlemarch to those of Great Expectations and Hard Times. George Eliot heightens the psychological realism by detailing the subjective conflicts within characters. The second chapter describes how Jude the Obscure and Sons and Lovers maintain the focus on the external manipulation of individual desire. The thesis compares how Hardy and Lawrence chronicle the crucial childhood and adolescent experiences of Jude Fawley and Paul Morel respectively. The second chapter analyzes those relationships and conflicts of the major and minor characters which amplify the theme of social repression. The final chapter of the thesis discusses another manifestation of social repression in Jude the Obscure and Sons and Lovers. In these novels this theme is expressed, for the first time in English fiction, in explicit sexual terms. The thesis isolates those external influences, both social and domestic, which inhibit the psycho-sexual development of Jude Fawley and Paul Morel. The family, largely maternal, conditioning of Sue Bridehead and Miriam Leivers is also analyzed as another amplification of the central thematic focus on social conditioning.

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