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The Kiss in Modernist Literature

ARMSTRONG, BRYONY,FAYE (2023) The Kiss in Modernist Literature. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Author-imposed embargo until 15 August 2024.


Modernist writers were remarkably preoccupied with the relationship between the haptic experience of the kiss and the social, technological, and political conditions of modernity. This thesis argues that attention to the kiss provided a way for these writers to comprehend and relate how modern experience feels. By intervening in recent haptic and phenomenological studies in modernist criticism, it not only contributes to our understanding of modernism as something concerned with the experience of the body and its intersubjective encounters, but aims to make two wider points. Firstly, as the first extended study of the kiss in prose, it shows that kissing emerges in a huge variety of modernist texts while also contributing to a much longer literary tradition stretching back to classical texts. Secondly, it traces the socio-political frameworks that shaped prevailing cultural attitudes towards the kiss in the modernist years and suggests that such frameworks contribute to regular attempts to dictate who should kiss whom, and in what context.

The work is divided into four chapters that, while non-exhaustive, approach significant instances of modernist literary kisses. In Chapter One, I discuss D. H. Lawrence’s writings on kisses that happen at speed and make new connections between this writing and contemporary ideas about the body’s experience of space. Chapter Two compares Virginia Woolf’s Orlando (1928) with Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) and suggests that two interracial kisses in these novels reveal a relationship between touch and racial politics in the context of modernist cinema spectatorship. In Chapter Three I analyse kisses between women in Rosamond Lehmann’s Dusty Answer (1927), Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness (1928) and Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood (1936) and locate a constellation of narrative strategies for deviating from heteronormative modes of perception or patriarchal models of intimacy. Chapter Four explores the writing and dancing of Richard Bruce Nugent, including a wealth of unpublished material. It suggests that his representations of kissing share qualities with his philosophies of dance, which subvert the cultural expectations of Black racial uplift and wider capitalist narratives. The Conclusion draws together threads regarding the kiss and consent, and gestures towards a pressing need in kiss studies to take seriously the forced kiss and criticise literary narratives of ‘stolen kisses’. In all, the thesis makes the case for the multi-faceted exploration of the act of kissing in texts of the modernist years.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Kiss, Modernism, Haptic, Phenomenology, Queer, Gender, Race, Intersubjectivity, Speed, Cinema, Dance, Motion, Space, Touch, Proprioception
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English Studies, Department of
Thesis Date:2023
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:16 Aug 2023 12:52

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