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Ascetic modernism in Eliot and Flaubert

By Henry Michael Gott


This thesis describes Eliot and Flaubert’s shared fascination for the figure of the\ud ascetic saint, with special attention given to The Waste Land and La Tentation de\ud saint Antoine. I examine how the structure, style and themes of these two works\ud in particular show the authors updating into a modernist context the model of\ud the trial they inherit from saintly literature. I explore in detail the varied\ud connotations that the saint attracts, structuring my analysis on the basis of\ud dialectical tensions which allow me to trace the relation of the saint’s experience\ud to the theory and praxis of the two authors: the contrasting forms of discourse\ud within each text, scientific and religious thought as distinct but potentially\ud complicit approaches to knowledge, or the contrapuntal relationship of desert\ud and city, allow me to illustrate the texts’ enactment of a central paradox of the\ud ascetic’s via negativa – where the comprehensive vantage point to which they\ud aspire is only achieved through loss.\ud I give extensive attention to the techniques and structure of each work, in\ud which I elaborate the operative significance of the saint’s emblematic status. My\ud analysis culminates in a reading of the Tentation and The Waste Land that stresses\ud their relation to an ascetic paradigm, which not only inheres through the\ud recurrence of various motifs in the work of Eliot and Flaubert but is characteristic\ud of modernism more generally. On the one hand expanding on undeveloped hints\ud in Eliot criticism, regarding both the influence of Flaubert and The Waste Land’s\ud relation to the saint’s trial, whilst on the other allowing Flaubert’s Tentation to\ud benefit from the greater critical scrutiny given to its more canonical counterpart,\ud the thesis enhances our understanding of both the individual authors and the\ud broader intellectual climate to which they belong

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