‘Ghostly Sisterhood: The Supernatural Fiction of Vernon Lee, Edith Wharton and May Sinclair in an Age of Transition (1886 – 1926)’

Kyinat, Anam (2023) ‘Ghostly Sisterhood: The Supernatural Fiction of Vernon Lee, Edith Wharton and May Sinclair in an Age of Transition (1886 – 1926)’. Doctoral thesis, The University Of Buckingham.

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This thesis demonstrates that the supernatural short stories written by Vernon Lee, Edith Wharton and May Sinclair – a ghostly sisterhood - utilise the ghost story to shape narratives that reveal a proto-modernist consciousness, going beyond the representational to construct narratives which challenge and unsettle conventional realism. This ‘proto-modernity’ can be closely attributed to the ideas developed by Lee in relation to aesthetics, particularly her use of the term ‘empathy’ when structuring debates about feeling and art around psychological terminology. Equally important to this early modernist work was Freud’s 1919 essay on ‘The Uncanny’, which revealed a relationship between feeling, aesthetics, and the nature of the uncanny as experienced in art. Through this thesis I will investigate the interconnections between empathy and the uncanny as they relate to the work of Lee, Wharton, and Sinclair to demonstrate the extent by which writing supernatural fiction provided a means to radically explore the possibilities of women’s imaginative literature. In exploring women’s experiences on the very margins of realism with an interdisciplinary approach to fiction, these authors were able to branch out into areas of knowledge and experience beyond their art, ultimately rendering each as early examples of the intellectual women writers praised by Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own (1929). Additionally, the aesthetic ideas discussed by Vernon Lee in ‘The Psychology of an Art Writer’ (1903), ‘Gallery Diaries’ (1905) and, with Clementina Anstruther-Thomson, Beauty and Ugliness (1912), are examined in relation to the body and physical experience. This thesis considers that Freud’s ideas of the uncanny are an extension of Lee’s psychological aesthetic ideas, with close readings of key representative stories taken from Lee’s Hauntings (1890), Wharton’s Ghosts (1937) and Sinclair’s Uncanny Stories (1923) making the case for that these writers pushed the boundaries of what was possible in contemporary literature, arguing that they should be taken seriously as developing, prot-modernist thinkers active in a period of transition.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Supernatural fiction ; Vernon Lee ; Edith Wharton ; May Sinclair ; proto-modernity ; empathy ; the uncanny ; women’s literature.
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BH Aesthetics
D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D204 Modern History
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0441 Literary History
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Divisions: School of Humanities & Social Sciences > English Literature > English Literature
Depositing User: Freya Tyrrell
Date Deposited: 23 Feb 2024 16:23
Last Modified: 23 Feb 2024 16:23
URI: http://bear.buckingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/627

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