Repository logo

Tales of (Dis)connection: Moving Through an Interconnected Europe in the Short Story, 1880–1930



Change log


Feklistova, Elizaveta 


Intuitively, transportation technologies move the human body, fight isolation by connecting people across distance and broaden minds by exposing individuals to far-away places. Focusing on short stories by Thomas Hardy, James Joyce, Jean Rhys, Aldous Huxley and D. H. Lawrence, this dissertation argues that the short story form is ideally suited to expressing concerns about precisely the opposite occurring. Writing between 1880 and 1930, Hardy, Joyce, Rhys, Huxley and Lawrence all posited that indifference, isolation, ignorance and inaction spread across Europe due to the advent of steam and motor-powered transportation technologies. As they revolutionized migration, tourism and the commute, the railway, the steam-ship, the motor-car, the omni-bus and the electric tram also drew attention to the parochialism they were destroying, making the limitations of both interconnectedness and insularity recurrent themes in short stories of the period.

This dissertation begins by arguing that formal features which limit narrative length – summary, ellipses and a restricted scope for plot – lend themselves to thematizing various forms of limitation, including indifference, ignorance and inaction. The first chapter focuses on Hardy’s summary-heavy short story collection Life’s Little Ironies (1894), wherein summarizing distances readers from Hardy’s characters’ experiences in stories about interpersonal disconnection – a disconnection Hardy deemed to be rising as railways sundered formerly insular communities. The second chapter addresses how both Joyce and Rhys wrote ellipses-filled short stories to illustrate paralysing ignorance. Joyce – who wrote his short story collection Dubliners (1914) after a formative stay as an emigrant in Paris – uses ellipses to stress how permanently settled natives may feel unable to acknowledge uncomfortable truths about their homeland, whereas Rhys, in her collection The Left Bank (1927), stresses how cosmopolitan natives-of-nowhere lack the socio-cultural context necessary to understand their surroundings. The final chapter discusses selected short stories written in the 1910s and 1920s by Huxley and Lawrence, who both feared that globetrotting and vehicular speeding allowed individuals to escape meaningful interpersonal ties. Leading emotionally barren lives, Huxley’s and Lawrence’s flighty characters are often trapped in self-destructive behavioural patterns, resulting in a restricted scope for plot. Huxley also uses summary to illustrate superficial interpersonal relationships. Since summary, ellipses and a restricted scope for action all curtail narrative length while lending themselves to expressing indifference, ignorance, and inaction, the short story proved especially well-suited to articulating anxieties about the paralysing potential of unprecedented mobility in the decades surrounding the turn of the twentieth century.





Mengham, Roderick


Aldous Huxley, James Joyce, Jean Rhys, Thomas Hardy, D. H. Lawrence, English Literature, Modernism, Modernity, Travel, Transport, Paralysis, Short Stories, Short Story Theory


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
University of Cambridge's Faculty of English Funding Awards for Postgraduate Students Newnham College Grants