Mutations of Heroism in Nineteenth-Century Modernity

  • Tristan Burke

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis addresses how a range of early- to mid-nineteenth century texts from different national traditions deploy a discourse of heroism that responds to the legacies of Byron and Napoleon in such a way as to imagine new forms of subjectivity and class position as heroic. It shows how Byron and Napoleon are constructed by these texts as heroic figures of the past who are no longer suited to the current economic and social conditions of the triumphant bourgeoisie, but, simultaneously, how these figures are deployed by the bourgeoisie in order to bolster the ideological work of showing their class as heroic. Napoleon and Byron offer certain ideological and intellectual preconditions for the development of a bourgeois consciousness, a development which in turn repudiates what it is based on. I have selected texts across a range of national traditions in order to stress the pan-European importance of Napoleon and Byron. Their influence involves such an extent of international dialogue that they cannot be looked at without considering them as international figures. The comparative and international focus of the project allows an approach which both highlights the similarities between different national traditions and responses, and the differences between them, often rooted in various histories, points in economic development and ideological and political configurations. The rationale for selecting the particular texts I have is that all of them grapple quite obviously, and at a basic linguistic level, with the question of heroism: they present the word 'hero' in their title, in their opening pages, or with a certain frequency throughout the text.In addressing the central focus of my research, a number of issues surrounding it frequently arise. Particularly these concern theoretical questions to do with the novel as a key cultural form through which the bourgeoisie ideologically expresses and consolidates itself, questions such as "what is realism?" and "how does the novel respond to historical events?" Furthermore, the thesis inquires exactly how bourgeois subjectivity can be imagined, recognised and theorised. In order to address these concerns I deploy a range of theoretical texts, particularly the work of Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Walter Benjamin and Jacques Rancière.The thesis is split into two halves, focusing on Byron and Napoleon. It begins with a general introduction, addressing the historical context, and critical and theoretical works that respond to the notion of the hero and heroism. After this, each chapter focuses quite narrowly on specific texts but draws in wider historical, literary and other contextual concerns. The Byron theme has chapters on Pushkin's Eugene Onegin and Lermontov's A Hero of Our Time, and on Dickens's David Copperfield. The Napoleon theme has chapters on Stendhal's The Red and the Black and Thackeray's Vanity Fair.
Date of Award1 Aug 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorAlan Rawes (Supervisor) & Rachel Platonov (Supervisor)

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