Date of Award

Summer 2023

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Comparative Literature

First Advisor

Yvonne Ivory

Second Advisor

Francisco J. Sánchez


This dissertation brings together nineteenth-century texts written by Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, Gustave Flaubert, Benito Pérez Galdós, Rachilde, and Oscar Wilde in order to trace a common thread weaving in and out of literature produced during this period: the theme of corporeal disintegration and its psychic and social ramifications. Each of the analyzed works considers the human condition from diverse perspectives and portrays the breakdown in interpersonal relationships as characters become estranged from society and each other. Of course, the examples considered here are canonical ones widely discussed in criticism—some of them as forebears of literary Modernism, for which the alienation of the individual and the fragmented subject are hallmarks. However, there is a lack of critical studies linking the aforementioned authors (writing from such disparate literary movements as Romanticism, Gothic horror, Realism, Naturalism, and Decadence) through the motif of disintegration. To address this deficiency, a phenomenological framework based upon insights from Edmund Husserl and Susan Feagin is adopted to explain the occurrence of this motif (which persists in fiction throughout the nineteenth century well before the stylistic innovations of the twentieth) in terms of the failure of characters to empathize with others. This framework is used instead of one based in affect theory because, though affective connections are an important part of this discussion, Husserl’s concepts more adequately address the philosophical issues which are at the heart of nineteenth-century literature, such as reason (and its breakdown), the nature of knowledge, the relationship between the self and others, determinism, and free will.


© 2023, Benjamin Mark Driscol

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