Date of Award

2019

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in English

Department

English

First Advisor

Jean Walton

Abstract

In this dissertation, I examine what mobilized the simultaneous discourses of charm and anti-charm rhetoric in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century British and American modernist literature. Charm moves through texts as a trojan horse of sorts, ostensibly supporting normative ideologies of the social order while its use actually imagines sociopolitical transformation. I look to Oscar Wilde’s works to assess how charm possesses an aesthetic magic that bonds persons across normative time and social stratification. Charm becomes an experimental force of social form in the early decades of the twentieth-century. In the works of Gertrude Stein and Sylvia Townsend Warner, charm’s play with concealment and revelation renders new understandings of the female body in modernist culture, and presents radical feminist revolutionary potential. By the 1930s, however, charm’s rebellious force of form becomes subsumed by global capitalism, and re-latches to normativity; namely, to white masculinity, which repossesses and subsumes the rebellious powers of charm to become a powerful capitalist slickness in works by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Edith Wharton. Charm’s presence in the era, I argue, not only formulates a compelling narrative of modernism that deserves critical attention, but also exists as a force that wounds accepted paradigms of contemporary modernist studies. As modernist studies attempts to move toward questions of theoretical approach as well as scale (historical, geographic, and even planetary), charm serves as example of what new approaches to modernism based in mechanisms of feminization, marginalization, and difference can do.

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