"Almost unnamable" : suicide in the modernist novel

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Chung, Christopher Damien, 1979-

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Since Presocratic Greece, suicide in the West has been “known” and controlled, both politically and discursively. Groups as diverse as theologians and literary critics have propagated many different views of self-killing, but, determining its cause and moralizing about it, they have commonly exerted interpretive power over suicide, making it nameable, explicable, and predominantly reprehensible. The four modernist authors that I consider in this dissertation -- Ernest Hemingway, Joseph Conrad, Virginia Woolf, and William Faulkner -- break completely with the tradition of knowing suicide by insisting on its inscrutability, refusing to judge it, and ultimately rendering it “almost unnamable,” identifiable but indefinable. In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Victory, Mrs. Dalloway, and The Sound and the Fury, respectively, these authors portray illustrative, but by no means definitive, modernist self-killings; they construct a distinctive representational space around suicide, one free of causal, moral, theoretical or thematic meaning and, I argue, imbued with the power to disrupt interpretation. “‘Almost Unnamable’: Suicide in the Modernist Novel” examines the power of self-killing’s representational space in early twentieth-century fiction, arguing for its importance not only to the history of suicide in the West but also to the portrayal of death in the twentieth-century novel.