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The making of an aesthetic and ineffable ‘mysticism’ in Victorian poetry and poetics

Alotaibi, Nada Abdullah (2016) The making of an aesthetic and ineffable ‘mysticism’ in Victorian poetry and poetics. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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Abstract

Relying on a constructivist framework of analysis drawn from the disciplines of Philosophy, Religious Studies, and History, this thesis examines the contribution of Victorian poetry and poetic theory to the modern construction of ‘mysticism’ as an aesthetic and ineffable category. My analysis is guided by the Foucaultian notion that any definition of a given concept reflects issues of authority, which I use to propose that, in the increasingly secularized milieu of nineteenth-century culture, many Victorian intellectuals sought to assert the ineffability and aesthetic character of mysticism as part of a larger nineteenth-century search for an authoritative place for poetry. With a special focus on the writings of Thomas Carlyle and James Thomson (B. V.), the problematization of mysticism I offer here spans the period between the mid-1820s and 1880s, a relatively broad context that allows me to draw connections among various poets, critics and their works, and weave these into a readable narrative where mysticism figures as a key player in the collective aesthetic consciousness of an age. Chapter I of this thesis establishes the conceptual and theoretical parameters of the debate informing the constructivist method I employ, with the aim of offering a critique of previous literary scholarship on Victorian poetry that adopts mysticism as a primary analytic category. I argue that such scholarship largely bases its analysis on essentialist definitions, and often ends up being ideologically exclusionary. Chapter II provides a detailed look at the conceptual overlap between mysticism and poetry in both Modernist and Victorian discourse for the purpose of establishing that modern mysticism is fundamentally a poetic and aesthetic construct, one that was shaped by the nineteenth-century discourse on poetry and art. Situating Carlyle’s discourse on mysticism within that of other contemporary figures, Chapter III examines his leading role in the nineteenth-century conceptual transformation of ‘mysticism’ from a term that was pejoratively used to signify ‘unintelligibility’ to one that was used to denote the transcendental legitimacy of poetry. Chapter IV traces Thomson’s career-long engagement with mysticism along his religious and intellectual development from a theist to a self-proclaimed atheist, arguing that it reflects on a larger scale the history of mysticism’s development in the second half of the Victorian age: how its Romantic appropriation in the mid-nineteenth century was especially freighted with religious meanings, and how this would gradually change at the turn of the century, where it would become more open to secular and naturalistic interpretations.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: mysticism, Victorian poetry, criticism, religion, poetic inspiration, Thomas Carlyle, James Thomson, Foucault, social construction, constructivist, constructionist, Romanticism, ineffability, culture, power, prophet, vague.
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts (Leeds)
The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts (Leeds) > School of English (Leeds)
Depositing User: Ms Nada A A Alotaibi
Date Deposited: 27 Jun 2016 11:04
Last Modified: 27 Jun 2016 11:04
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/13400

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