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Abstract

This dissertation explores the tradition of literary romance in order to make an argument concerning the truth of imaginative fiction. In much of literary history, romance literature is subjected to a steady critique. It is assumed that romance stories are overly formulaic, or that they fail to attend to reality. In the discourse surrounding the novel, for instance, it is often in contrast with a notion of romance that the novel’s realism is defined. To take this critique at face value is to underestimate the extent to which romance is expressive of truth or reality in its own particular way. To be sure, romance emphasizes the formulaic or conventional aspect of narrative. At the same time, however, it teaches its readers to see this formulaic or conventional aspect as an attribute of reality itself. In other words, formulas and patterns are in some sense inherent within reality; or reality is in part imaginatively constituted. To believe in romance, this dissertation argues, is to recognize that the seemingly opposing poles of imagination and reality are interdependent. This understanding of romance is argued for in an introduction and four chapters. The introduction highlights parallels between romance and the Biblical tradition. What links romance to the Bible are first of all thematic strands such as marriage symbolism and the structure of death and resurrection. Significant as well is the demand that the Bible places on a reader’s faith or belief. As Augustine argues in De doctrina christiana, it is only in light of faith that the Bible can be understood. This hermeneutic model lays the groundwork for an approach to secular literature that is similarly rooted in a certain kind of belief. Chapter 1 illustrates such an approach by exploring Goethe’s 1797 ballad “Die Braut von Corinth” and Hitchcock’s 1938 film The Lady Vanishes. Both of these works are interested thematically in the relationship between imagination and reality. The romantic pair in each work achieves union only when the realms of imagination and reality merge. Crucial to note is that this process characterizes the experience not only of the protagonists but also of the reader. For comparing these works makes it clear that they share narrative patterns. What the comparison also shows, however, is that these patterns are not merely a product of the imagination. This is to say that, when comparing these works, we are invited to believe that the narrative patterns we discover are expressive of a deeper reality. In Chapter 2, the discussion shifts to a topic that is latent in both Goethe’s ballad and Hitchcock’s film: idolatry and the controversial status of images. In many respects, the critique of romance in the literary tradition runs parallel to a critique of images in the religious tradition. Indeed, critics of romance have explicitly described it as idolatrous. An implication is that the defense of images in the Christian tradition can to some extent serve as a defense of romance as well. Chapter 3 considers the characteristically imaginary quality of romance by focusing on Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale. Central to this discussion are René Girard’s writings on sacrifice and mimetic desire. As Girard argues, sacrificial violence is the result of a mimetic social process. Because The Winter’s Tale depicts the arresting or overcoming of this mimetic process, the play naturally assumes a non-mimetic aesthetic quality that strikes us as imaginary. The final chapter (Chapter 4) turns to Goethe’s 1809 novel Die Wahlverwandtschaften. Goethe’s novel contributes to the romance tradition by powerfully experimenting with romance narrative structures. It depicts what ensues when these structures are departed from or are morphed beyond recognition. If The Winter’s Tale concludes with the overcoming of a violent mimetic process, for instance, it seems that Die Wahlverwandtschaften allows such a process to overwhelm a seemingly enlightened society. By way of making this argument, the chapter additionally considers Goethe’s novel in light of two films: Brahm’s Guest in the House and Hitchcock’s I Confess. As in Chapter 1, therefore, an implicit claim of this final chapter is that aspects of Goethe’s romance storytelling can be seen to lead a kind of cinematic afterlife.

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