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Title:Wallpapering the novel: economics, aesthetics, and the realist home
Author(s):Stein, Faith
Director of Research:Murav, Harriet
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Murav, Harriet
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Courtemanche, Eleanor; Sobol, Valeria; Bray, Patrick
Department / Program:Comparative and World Literature
Discipline:Comparative Literature
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):nineteenth-century novel
French literature
English literature
Russian literature
Victorian culture
Honoré de Balzac
Elizabeth Gaskell
John Ruskin
Lev Tolstoy
material culture
Abstract:Wallpaper suggests simple metaphors. It is veneering at its flimsiest, easily showing dirt and age or else an impudent newness, and its influence on literary characters is usually one of psychological disturbance or else the visual evidence of social rank. Scholars have established the internal contradictions and conflicts of the nineteenth-century conceptual ideal separating the public and private spheres, while material histories of consumer goods have parsed the realist novel’s “thick descriptions.” I argue, however, that as a quotidian domestic feature of the realist novels’ homes, as well as a visual expanse that “backgrounds” the narrative, wallpaper is a unique meeting point between the “minor” details of realism’s material ephemera and the social, economic, and narratological implications of spatial theory and visual analysis. While I address the representation of wallpaper and related forms of interior décor in a variety of nineteenth-century fiction and nonfiction, I focus each chapter on a particular early-, mid-, and late-century text that features a distinctive type of wallpaper: Honoré de Balzac’s Le père Goriot (1835) and its panoramic décor; Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South (1855), whose wallpaper reflects the mass production of ornament and the industrialization of color and design; and Lev Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (1877), as well as his other late writings, in which the author grapples with the ethics of aesthetics and ornament, whether on walls or on the printed page. I place each works’ depiction of wallpaper in the national, historical, and literary context of both the text and the décor described therein. Thus I trace the material history of wallpaper alongside and through the generic evolution of the realist novel via these literary touchstones, reordering the apparent superabundance of material details cluttering the realist home according to the metonymic logic of its literal and literary things.
Issue Date:2014-01-16
Rights Information:Copyright 2013 Faith Wilson Stein
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-01-16
Date Deposited:2013-12

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