Post-World War II Elegy and the Geographic Imagination
Mills, Rebecca Margaret
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
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I argue for the significance of the spatial and geographic in the criticism of elegy. Space and geography are important in elegy, I demonstrate, both as a strategy for ordering the emotion of grief into the practice of mourning, but also in terms of mapping the flexible, shifting distance between the dead and the elegist, inscribing memory, navigating a changed world of loss and absence, and providing a site for funeral rites. Elegy is often critically considered in socio-historical terms; by examining post-war elegy and grounding this analysis within the theories and methodology of the “spatial turn” of the second half of the twentieth century, I challenge critical narratives of shift and break within the tradition by illustrating a shared heritage of geographic tropes in Western elegy, as well as emphasise the particular inflections of place in individual narratives of mourning. I focus on two elegists in each chapter, examining how their geographic imaginations inflect sites of mourning with their specific encounters with death and grief. Each chapter is informed by human and cultural geography. My first chapter maps grounds of burial and recovery marked with the interplay of silence and voice in Tony Harrison’s V. and Seamus Heaney’s “Bog Queen” and “Station Island,” using J. B. Harley’s idea of “cartographies of silence.” I then use Nigel Thrift’s theories of modern mobility to navigate the inscriptive funereal mobilities in Amy Clampitt’s “A Procession at Candlemas” and Anne Carson’s Nox, emphasising the movement of the mourner in response to the stillness of death. My following chapter employs Doreen Massey’s ideas of space as simultaneous narratives to investigate architectural spaces in Douglas Dunn’s Elegies and Ted Hughes’s Birthday Letters, and illustrates the transformation of everyday buildings into monuments to loss and grief. Finally, I apply Yi-Fu Tuan’s formulation of place and mythic space to the border between life and death in the littoral topographies of Elizabeth Bishop’s “North Haven” and Sylvia Plath’s “Berck-Plage,” and the distinctive perspectives on death they embody. Each chapter emphasises precursors and continuities within the elegiac tradition as well as post-war engagements with history, memory, events of death, practices of mourning and commemoration, and the possibility of consolation evoked and ordered by the geographic imagination.
European Social Fund
“A Knossos of Coincidence”: Elegy and the “Chance of Space” in the Urban Geographies of Birthday Letters in Ted Hughes Society Journal 3.1 (2013)
PhD in English