Theses Doctoral

Missing Homes: Poe, Brontë, Dickens and Displacement

Brown, Natalie

“Missing Homes” examines three nineteenth-century authors whose experiences of displacement from home, professions and/or class influenced their literary innovations. Displacement is not a new theme to scholars of nineteenth-century literature, who have established it as a defining experience of an era characterized by financial crises, industrial development, migration and empire. However, scholarship on displacement has often focused on how novels train readers to manage the experience of displacement and has depicted the emotions like nostalgia that arise from it as potentially compensatory or reconciliatory to the dynamics of capitalism. “Missing Homes” departs from these narratives to explore authors who found displacement anything but manageable or liberating and whose works illustrate a more unstable spectrum of emotional responses to displacement and its dire long-term consequences. Attention to these authors, I argue, offers a parallel theory of nostalgia in which the unsettled longing for a place to call home registers political discontent with the relationship between the individual and the collective rather than reconciles the individual to displacement.

Departing from critics who have focused primarily on the work performed by metaphors and figures of the domestic, “Missing Homes” engages in biographical readings of the lives, economic circumstances and fiction of Edgar Allan Poe, Charlotte Brontë and Charles Dickens to show how they pursued fantasies of securing homes that could remove them from undesirable personal, economic and political conditions. The failures of these fantasies reveal how conventional narratives describing how individuals might attain security often fail in the face of collective economic conditions in which attaining objects like a home is both economically challenging and often emotionally unfulfilling. Although the variables of their lives were different, I suggest that these authors’ stories of displacement fail to perform therapeutic or intervening work, because the problem of displacement is rooted in material conditions that narrative innovation alone cannot resolve. Instead, readers should derive from these texts and their failures the need for more collective forms of security.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Thesis Advisors
Davidson, Jenny M.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
November 2, 2020