Polyglot Passages: Multilingualism and the Twentieth-Century Novel
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This thesis reads the twentieth-century novel in light of its engagement with multilingualism. It treats the multilingual as a recurring formal preoccupation for writers working predominantly in English, but also as an emergent historical problematic through which they confront the linguistic and political inheritances of empire. The project thus understands European modernism as emerging from empire, and reads its formal innovations as engagements with the histories and quotidian realities of language use in the empire and in the metropolis. In addition to arguing for a rooting of modernism in the language histories of empire, I also argue for the multilingual as a potential linkage between European modernist writing and the writing of decolonisation, treating the Caribbean as a particularly productive region for this kind of enquiry. Ultimately, I argue that these periodical groupings – the modernist and the postcolonial – can be understood as part of a longer chronology of the linguistic legacy of empire. The thesis thus takes its case studies from across the twentieth century, moving between Europe and the Caribbean. The first chapter considers Joseph Conrad as the paradigmatic multilingual writer of late colonialism and early modernism, and the second treats Jean Rhys as a problematic late modernist of Caribbean extraction. The second half of the thesis reads texts more explicitly preoccupied with the Caribbean: the third chapter thus considers linguistic histories of Guyana and the Americas in the works of the experimental novelist Wilson Harris, and the fourth is concerned with the inventive and polemical contemporary Dominican-American novelist, Junot Díaz.
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