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Title:The other cross-channel neighbor: Imagining and appropriating Belgium in nineteenth-century British literature and culture
Author(s):Ramais, Thierry
Director of Research:Saville, Julia F.; Goodlad, Lauren M.E.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Saville, Julia F.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Courtemanche, Eleanor; Proulx, François
Department / Program:English
Discipline:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree:Ph.D.
Genre:Dissertation
Subject(s):Thackeray
Brontë
Rossetti
Marryat
Gautier
Longfellow
Belgium
Belgian
Brussels
Ostend
Antwerp
Brugges
cross-channel
interculturalism
multiculturalism
cosmopolitanism
nineteenth century
nineteenth century literature
Victorian, Victorian literature
Little Travels and Roadside Sketches
Papers by the Fat Contributor
The Professor
Villette
A Trip to Paris and Belgium
The Blood of the Vampire
The Carillon
The Belfry of Brugges
Caprices et Zigzags
Titmarsh
Gothic
poetry
novel
travel
travel writing
travelogue
travel guides, Rubens, Memling, Van Eyck, Wiertz
Abstract:This dissertation investigates the effects of increasingly negative perceptions on the representation of Belgium in Victorian literature, but also those of more positive associations, particularly in the literature that more closely followed Belgium's independence. The study focuses on works by Charlotte Brontë, William Thackeray, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Florence Marryat and reveals that, while these authors have sometimes been described as a-political by some critics or biographers, they all show a surprisingly acute knowledge of Belgian affairs. This study seeks to throw new light on each author's ability to explore questions related to British, Belgian and European identities, the contemporaneous situation of Belgium and the state of Belgo-British perceptions, as well as to their position as travelers, outsiders and writers of their own experiences on the Continent. It investigates how these literary productions showcase not only these authors’ knowledge of Belgium and of Victorian views of Belgium, but also their integration of the context of changing British perceptions towards Belgium in the service of unique, individual artistic pursuits that often have a lot more to do with the British cultural realm at the time than with international politics.  The first chapter focuses on two little-known productions by William Makepeace Thackeray, Papers by the Fat Contributor and Little Travels and Roadside Sketches (1844-1845) and shows how these travel accounts showcase not only Thackeray's burgeoning talent for satire but also his ability to explore questions of literary genre in ways that belie the apparent disorganization of these texts. At a time when British interest in Belgium had not yet waned, Thackeray uses Belgium to question how an increased British access to Continental tourism might change Romantic ideas about travel and extends the focus of his narrative to the Victorians' conceptions of travel writing and the latter’s role, alongside history writing, in shaping ideologies around class and nationalism. The second chapter tackles Charlotte Brontë’s The Professor (1846-1857) and Villette (1853). While pre-1960s criticism of both novels focuses on these characters' individual experiences, later critics have positioned their conflicts in the context of Britishness in a Continental setting. This chapter extends the latter approach to include an investigation of the effects of Belgian history on the multicultural, interpersonal conflicts described in each narrative and analyzes descriptions of national and religious identity crises as they affect characters from both sides of the Channel. Reading Villette from the standpoint of Belgium's struggle for independence, and the role played by religion and education in the latter, it analyzes how this historical background inflects Brontë's narrative. Then, while investigating the changes in Victorian perception of Belgium in the time gap separating the two novels, it offers possible explanations for Brontë's choice in Villette to shift from The Professor's setting (Brussels in 1846) to the fictional Labassecour, as it considers the advantages and limitations that a recognizably Belgian setting poses to her. The third chapter focuses on Dante Gabriel Rossetti's trip taken with William Holman Hunt to France and Belgium and the resulting A Trip to Paris and Belgium (1849), in particular the lesser-known travel poems that document the poet's experience in the Belgian cities and landmarks he visits, his modes of transportation, and his occasional musings on Belgium and the Belgians. It shows that, even if a close reading reveals the poet's awareness of the post-1848 political climate on each side of the Belgo-French border, his chief preoccupation is with Medieval “Belgian” art and its potential enrichment of Pre-Raphaelitism. The chapter highlights the variety of themes these poems ultimately investigate: from train travel and its resulting sensory explorations, to reflections on mass tourism and its effects on artistic institutions and, last but not least, a poetic quest to connect intellectually with the Flemish masters of the past while acknowledging Belgian modernity. The sonnet sequence echoes a different use of Belgium (aiming at changing opinions at home) as well as a waning interest of Victorians in Belgium starting in the late 1840s. Finally, chapter four focuses on Florence Marryat’s The Blood of the Vampire (1897). It shows how both the rise of middle-class British tourism to Belgium and the growth of Belgium as a colonial power in Central Africa restored Belgium to Victorian public attention in the 1880s and 1890s, and how this double historical backdrop informs Marryat's use of the country in her story. The study reveals how, while Brontë, Rossetti and Thackeray used Belgium to investigate questions related to Britishness within a mostly cross-Channel and North-European framework, Marryat's novel places Heyst and London as nodes on an even more international network, echoing the increasing inter-connectedness of European and world economies. Finally, it connects these observations with a discussion and questioning of the novel's genre, showing how Marryat's use of Belgium serves to undermine the core of her novel's supernatural promises. This, the chapter argues, echoes the propensity of her British characters to embrace fantastical logic at the expense of truth about colonial exploitation, poor factory working conditions and racism.
Issue Date:2019-11-25
Type:Text
URI:http://hdl.handle.net/2142/106197
Rights Information:Copyright 2019 Thierry Ramais
Date Available in IDEALS:2020-03-02
Date Deposited:2019-12


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