Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


"The Disimprisoned Epic" attempts to offer the most comprehensive generic study to date of The French Revolution. It begins by considering the artistic experimentation and generic speculation prevalent in early nineteenth-century European literature and criticism, and their reflection in Carlyle's early critical essays. It then proceeds to examine how the genres discussed by Carlyle in his criticism reappear in paradoxical contexts in his own literary experiments, treating particularly the generic designations that Carlyle offers--though never simply or unproblematically--for his "novel" Sartor Resartus, his satire (or "pasquil") "Count Cagliostro," his "romance" "The Diamond Necklace," and his "epic" The French Revolution. After these preliminary investigations in Chapter One, this study moves in Chapter Two to a consideration of Carlyle's critical redefinition of the nature and purpose of epic. The following three chapters offer detailed analyses of The French Revolution from the perspective created by the opening chapters. Chapter Three examines Carlyle's use of mythical patterns, divorced from their classical and Judaeo-Christian contexts, and of explicit mythological allusions. Chapter Four studies Carlyle's inclusion of the widely varying genres of elegy, satire, comedy, farce, and tragedy in a comprehensive epic vision. Chapter Five investigates the conflicting structural elements of Carlyle's history: the clearly demarcated tripartite structure of the epic, the brief, static form of the prose emblem, and the confused, heterogeneous form of phantasmagory. In Chapter Six, which serves both to restate the paradoxical generic features of The French Revolution and to examine those features in a wider literary context, Carlyle's history is compared with a later nineteenth-century attempt to write a "disimprisoned" historical epic, Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. The intention of the entire dissertation is to explore Carlyle's important and insistent use of genres and generic terms in his complex artistic treatment of ostensibly extraliterary subjects.



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