Date of Award

5-1-2016

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

English

First Advisor

Chandler, Anne

Abstract

Despite shifts in marketing and ideological emphasis from the 1730s to the 1890s, the it-narrative genre (wherein objects and animals recount their own histories) remained surprisingly consistent in the nature of the social commentary it provided. In contrast to earlier studies, mainly devoted to small segments of the phenomenon in Britain or America, this study brings out the transatlantic persistence of the it-narrator’s functioning as a model of moral agency, cognizant of his/her/its obligations within a societal grid. A lens to the contemporary perception of what made it-narratives important is available in the writings of Thomas Reid, an eighteenth-century philosopher who emphasized the tangible reality of moral judgment as a force in "practical ethics." Widely known in Britain and America during this period, Reid’s paradigm, in dialogue with modern histories of material and popular culture, informs my account of how the it-narrative, while certainly responding to specific cultural trends, became ever more solidly perceived as an intertextual forum for understanding moral agency and social justice.

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