The Practice of Form: Arts of Life in Victorian Literature

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The Practice of Form: Arts of Life in Victorian Literature

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Title: The Practice of Form: Arts of Life in Victorian Literature
Author: Tardif, Stephen
Citation: Tardif, Stephen. 2016. The Practice of Form: Arts of Life in Victorian Literature. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
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Abstract: The Practice of Form: Arts of Life in Victorian Literature argues that Victorian poets, prose stylists, and fin-de-siècle aesthetes used literary form as a means of self-making. Connecting the resurgent interest in formal analysis in Victorian studies with its long-standing focus on material contexts and cultures, this project offers a new way of describing the work of literary works by taking form on the page to manifest the achieved formation of the writer. Because it engages the writer in an embodied, situated activity over time, literary form can be understood as something at once abstract and material. This double life of form enables its analysis as a practice, a diurnal program of action that draws its maker into a parallel process of personal formation. Four chapters illustrate this practice of form. The first chapter shows how Alfred Lord Tennyson uses In Memoriam to rid himself of the melancholy in which he seems to indulge. The second chapter shows how Gerard Manley Hopkins uses the form of his ode, “The Wreck of the Deutschland,” to describe the very response that his own poetic narrative produces. Walter Pater’s writing life is the subject of the third chapter, which details how he transforms a quiet life of literary study into the arena in which aestheticism’s pleasures are attained. The phenomenon of transformation through form finds its apex in a final chapter on Oscar Wilde, whose art strives to represent its own self-formative power as well as the very changes that it produces. The Practice of Form thus re-imagines the relationship between the lives and the works of key figures in Victorian literature by demonstrating how changes that go unrecorded in the biographical record endure in the literary forms that remain in their art.
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