Date of Award
Dr. Jonathan Farina
Dr. Arundhati Sanyal
Victorian, Individualism, Interiority, Nineteenth-century, Sociability
By collapsing the distinctions between private and public as he presents individual interiority as yet another performance, Thackeray’s The History of Pendennis undercuts disciplinary individualism, so that performances are not the product of social regulation but rather are as genuine as any presumed private thoughts or feelings. Pendennis actively performs the dissolution of interiority, as it thematically and stylistically enacts the awkwardness of genuine affectation as a routine and unavoidable reality of modern life. Reveling in the discomfort that accompanies the absence of secrecy, Thackeray parodies the privileging of secrecy and one’s interior self that pervades the Bildung genre he has appropriated. Just as Pen’s performances have an unrelenting presence in almost every scene, Thackeray similarly infuses the narrative with gestures and speeches to the reader, as if the novel itself is a performed event. While novels of interiority posit these gestures as symptoms of an otherwise unarticulated emotion or thought, Pendennis incorporates apostrophes to the reader as constitutive elements of an adaptive, social model of character, which reiterate the universality of human experience rather than privilege the individual reader. In the world of Pendennis, there is no room for a compromise between a public and private self, but the whole self – character, narrator, reader, and author – is subsumed by the performativity of the modern world, which dissembles secrets and replaces them with an insistent display of affectation as the only authenticity to which we have access.
Freire, Rachel, "Collapsing the Secret Self: Thackeray's The History of Pendennis as a Performative Parody" (2014). Seton Hall University Dissertations and Theses (ETDs). 1968.