Middlebrow Mystics: Henri Bergson and British Culture, 1899-1939

Green, Helen (2015) Middlebrow Mystics: Henri Bergson and British Culture, 1899-1939. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

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Abstract

This thesis explores the influence of Henri Bergson’s philosophy on middlebrow literature between 1899 and 1939. In doing so it engages with the work of Joseph Conrad, Algernon Blackwood and John Buchan as well as critics John Mullarkey, Suzanne Guerlac, Michael Vaughan and Michael Kolkman who, over the past three decades, have instigated a significant interdisciplinary revival and reassessment of Bergson’s work. Specifically, this study builds on, yet also extends, the work of literary critics like Paul Douglass, Hillary Fink, Mary Ann Gillies and S.E. Gontarski who since the 1990s have produced extensive studies exploring the impact of Bergson’s philosophy on modernism. While each of these studies confirm the considerable impact Bergson wrought on the culture and literature of this period, each limit their focus to canonical ‘highbrow’ modernist writers. Given the pervasive popularity of Bergson at this juncture, and following the spirit of recent calls in modernist studies for more inclusive, ‘flexible and perspicuous’ interpretations of the period’s literature, this project aims to extend the parameters of existing research to encompass early twentieth century ‘middlebrow’ fiction in the belief that Bergson represents a significant cultural and ideological bridge between these, too often, polarised literary streams.

As such, this study expands on the work of scholars like Nicola Humble, Kate Macdonald, Erica Brown and Mary Grover who, to borrow Humble’s term, have sought to ‘rehabilitate’ and reassess critical perceptions of the early twentieth century’s ‘middlebrow’ writing. Following a detailed explanation of Bergson’s philosophy, its place in early twentieth century British culture and its pertinence to literary studies today, I will move on to discuss key works by Joseph Conrad, Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen and John Buchan in relation to Bergson’s philosophy, placing particular focus on their more mystical aspects and thematic, structural applications. Such an investigation does not aim to negate the unique contribution Bergson made to inspiring, elucidating and supporting the formal innovations of modernism but hopes to emphasise the fact that his ideas resounded far beyond this context, capturing the attention of an unexpectedly broad spectrum of society in often unexpected, unconventional and as yet, under-explored ways.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: Q300 English studies
Department: Faculties > Arts, Design and Social Sciences > Humanities
University Services > Graduate School > Doctor of Philosophy
Depositing User: Paul Burns
Date Deposited: 19 Jul 2016 15:22
Last Modified: 26 Oct 2017 00:30
URI: http://nrl.northumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/27319

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