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The birthright and the blessing: narrative as exegesis in three of Thackeray's later novels
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of English.
2000 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This dissertation argues that the many narrative repetitions and allusions in Thackeray's fiction can be read as comments on and interpretations of each other and of biblical texts. Especially Henry Esmond, The Virginians, and Philip make use of reiterative strategies that have a close affinity with both midrash, classical Jewish narrative exegesis, and Christian typology. These two hermeneutical systems are used as models for a reading that takes the religious education in Victorian England into consideration. The study of significant similarities and differences between the fictional narratives and the Bible stories they rewrite shows that these novels are polysemous in that, like midrashic exegesis, they allow authority to multiple interpretations. However, in these novels the concept of caritas functions as a hermeneutical constraint, in the sense that, like typological interpretations of the Bible, the fictional narratives point towards the overarching value of neighbourly love.

The novels are seen as presupposing an ethical response from readers in a time and context where literature was naturally considered as a guide to moral conduct. The Genesis narrative of Jacob's appropriation of the birthright and the blessing of the firstborn, in Christian tradition a type for the appropriation of the Jewish spiritual heritage by the Church, generates two opposed paradigms within the novels. Codified moral injunctions and literal applications of the biblical text are set against an attitude marked by the spirit of caritas, in what is interpreted as an application of the dictum "the letter killeth but the spirit giveth life." In addition, biblical narratives like that of the sacrifice of Isaac, and parables such as that of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan, generate commentary on as diverse topics as the rights to political power, parent-child relations, incompatible obligations, forgiveness and moral indignation. Furthermore, inserted non-narrative genres are combined with narratorial intrusion to form a meta-fictional commentary on the paradoxical relations between narrative and truth.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International , 2000. , 209 p.
Stockholm studies in English, ISSN 0346-6272 ; 91
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URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-7675ISBN: 9122018662OAI: diva2:198809
Public defence
2000-03-17, Hörsal 8, Hus D, Södra huset, Frescati, Stockholm, 10:00 (English)
Available from: 2000-02-24 Created: 2000-02-24 Last updated: 2012-10-02Bibliographically approved

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