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The Bowen affect: the short fiction of Elizabeth Bowen and the case for re-reading emotion

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posted on 2023-06-07, 15:53 authored by Karen Ann Schaller
This thesis argues that the short fiction of Elizabeth Bowen is acutely preoccupied with reading emotion. Despite the growth of Bowen criticism, her stories remain understudied and this project proposes that their marginal status corresponds to this preoccupation. Through a close engagement with the literary representations of emotion at work in selected Bowen's stories, read alongside Bowen criticism, short story theory, and work on emotion, however, I show how her stories not only anticipate, but radically disrupt, current emotion theory. Recent theorisations of, and research on, emotion and affect across the disciplines tend to rely on the readability of emotion, emphasising the interpretation of specific emotions and reviving practices of affective criticism. Yet Bowen?s short fiction foregrounds emotion?s textuality: rather than allow us to read emotion „in? literature, I argue that her stories theorise the literariness of emotion. The project begins by suggesting a correspondence between her stories? engagement with emotion and their status, both within her literary oeuvre and in Bowen scholarship, to suggest that the complexity of her short fiction is often under-represented by occluding the deconstructions emotion mobilises. This enables us to map critical debates amongst Bowen scholars about the radicality of Bowen?s fiction onto wider narratives about emotion and critical resistances to its textuality. I go on to undertake close readings of selected stories to show how Bowen?s short fiction destabilises, rather than reinforces, the geographies of subjectivity, reality, time, and materiality to which emotion is presumed to belong. This project extends Bowen criticism that observes the ways her work anticipates psychoanalytical and Derridean readings, but through its focus on the short story it offers the second focused study of Bowen?s short fiction, and the first study of her short fiction to be informed by critical emotion theory. Not only does this thesis carve out a new territory within Bowen scholarship, but it offers a timely contribution to problems in thinking emotion and affect in literary criticism and theory. More broadly, it is my hope that my reading of Bowen demonstrates the necessity of attending to the textuality of emotion in the reading and theorisation of emotion across the disciplines.


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