Date of Award

Spring 4-1-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



First Advisor

Pashmina Murthy


The idea of nonnormative sexual identities first entered public discourse in the wake of the Wilde trials at the end of the nineteenth century. As nonnormative sexual identities solidified conceptually, they entered language in a way that allowed them new presence, voice, and possibility, including the ability to discuss and explore ideas of queer sexuality through literature. It is no coincidence that English fiction dealing openly with characters and themes we might today deem “queer” first appeared at the height of modernism, perhaps narrative’s most dynamic period. Following Ezra Pound’s oft-cited imperative to “make it new,” modernism gave rise to a general expectation of literary experimentation, creating a unique environment in which the unconventional and the marginal became the new normal. This new literary atmosphere encouraged not only a radical rethinking of traditional narrative forms, but also a distrust of conventional prescriptions for what should constitute the “proper” content of literature. While the inclusion of explicitly queer content in modernist literature is certainly significant in and of itself, formal queerness at the level of narrative accompanying this content has been largely untheorized. Insofar as modernism provides us with the first texts to combine explicit thematization of queerness with rich experimentation at the level of narrative form, I contend that these two ostensibly separate elements may in fact inform and complement one another. In the following chapters, I will analyze three novels—Nightwood, Orlando, and Passing—that represent some of modernism’s richest texts in terms of queer content and are amongst the most impressive in terms of narrative form. These texts, representing a multiplicity of perspectives and approaches, are among the first published in British and American literature to thematize queerness explicitly and to do so in ways that have compelling consequences for the study of narrative form. Throughout, I offer readings of these texts that prove the viability of queer narrativity, asserting that these readings may provide a model for assessing narrative queerness in any number of other texts.

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