Architectures of angst: Spatial poetics in 20th century existential literature
Bojko, Nicole Lucey
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This dissertation represents an attempt to respond to a lack in literary criticism; namely, it considers the role the constructed spaces in literature have in literary analysis within an existentialist framework. This project explores how an individual and his or her material surroundings are related, how philosophy and literature can be read together as a form of literary analysis, and how social and political questions are represented in a variety of works related by way of periodization and not philosophical movement. It begins by identifying what existentialist spatial poetics are by way of an analysis of existentialist space and the role space plays in the creation of the self in a selection of texts by Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Gabrielle Roy, and Françoise Sagan. It establishes the importance of incorporating novels not only as texts to be analyzed but also as modes of analysis. It next moves to existentialist fiction and gives a close reading of two of Sartre’s major prose works, Nausea and The Wall, supplemented by select works of Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, and Françoise Sagan. It considers the use of spatial elements in these texts and studies how Sartre and other existentialist authors use the constructed spaces of literature to give depth to characters and to expose the good and bad faith or authentic existence of characters. It speaks to the common critique that existentialist literature is a space of confinement and concludes that enclosure is a literary tool and not a necessary condition. It finishes by considering Jean Rhys’s Quartet and Good Morning, Midnight and James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, works that can be read as existentialist by way of periodization and location. Rhys and Baldwin address the freedom and responsibility of marginalized characters in daily life and explore the kinds of choices most people face each and every day. This dissertation emphasizes the importance of space not only as an element for literary analysis but also in its ability to influence and shape the plot of a novel.