Ruth Hobley (QMUL) - 2019-20 Students

‘Things of shreds and patches’: The nineteenth- century literary fragment

According to George Santayana in The Poetry of Barbarism (1900): ‘Our poets are things of shreds and patches; they give us episodes and studies, a sketch of this curiosity, a glimpse of that romance; they have no total vision, no grasp of the whole reality, and consequently no capacity for a sane and steady idealization.’ Building upon an analysis of Santayana’s invective, my thesis will explore the development of the literary fragment during the nineteenth century. Through this research, I aim to bridge the gap between previous studies of the fragment as a literary form, which have tended to focus either on the eighteenth century and Romantic period, or the explicitly fragmentary texts of Modernism. My research will be shaped by two contemporary critical concerns: the increasingly fragmentary nature of nineteenth-century writing (particularly lyric poetry), as highlighted by Santayana, and its perceived femininity, which was the contention of critics such as Alfred Austin and Robert Buchanan. I argue that both anxieties are significantly interlinked, and my research will be informed by the perceived femininity of the fragment, as previously noted by Elizabeth Wanning Harries in The Unfinished Manner (1994), and the subsequent implications for the reception of both male and female writers of fragmentary texts during the period. I will address various conceptions of the fragment in the course of my research, and my findings in each case will be supported by close-readings of relevant texts, alongside considerations of the fragment as a physical object, and the ways in which the Victorian attitude to material fragments, from antique ruins to household waste, can illuminate wider social concerns.

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