Security Breach: British Modernism and the Violence of Secrets

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Security Breach: British Modernism and the Violence of Secrets
Covington, Jeffrey P (creator)
Reichman, Ravit (Director)
Chow, Rey (Reader)
Katz, Tamar (Reader)
Brown University. English (sponsor)
Copyright Date
This dissertation argues that secrets become increasingly politicized over the course of the twentieth century, emerging from the private realm (the context of “family secrets” so prominent in nineteenth-century literature) and gaining traction – in fiction and the political imagination – as public, national issues. Specifically, the project traces the innovative styles and methods of narrating secrets in the modernist literature of Great Britain and claims that secrecy fundamentally alters the relationship between aesthetics and politics in the twentieth century. British modernism, I propose, expands the definition of the secret, situating it as information, ideology, and above all as narrative harbored by the state. My dissertation brings this relationship between literature and secrecy out of the private realm and into the political arena, examining it as a narrative of the individual’s engagement with the nation. Secrecy, I submit, constitutes a new literary form, one that takes shape in all its political potency and narrative force in the twentieth century. No longer the province of mystery or social intrigue as in the nineteenth-century novel, secrecy in the modern period comes into contact, indeed collides with, the political: the secret, in this era, becomes the clandestine. Ushering in this transformation in the political imaginary, novelists in the twentieth century create new forms that give shape and substance to this emergent secrecy. By examining how British modernist novels work with, through, and around secrets, I ask how is it that cultures in which secrets proliferate also produce subjects that act like spies, terrorists, and traumatized soldiers – that is, how they imagine character anew, calibrating it in relation to the political (and public) secrets that individuals harbor. These characters, in the process, transcend their individual sketches to become emblems of transformative philosophical and epistemological thinking about England.
the state
the twentieth-century British novel
Joseph Conrad
Virginia Woolf
Graham Greene
Ian McEwan
Thesis (Ph.D. -- Brown University (2015)
ix, 185 p.


Covington, Jeffrey P., "Security Breach: British Modernism and the Violence of Secrets" (2015). English Theses and Dissertations. Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library.