Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Lisa Weihman

Committee Co-Chair

Gwen Bergner

Committee Member

Ryan Claycomb

Committee Member

Adam Komisaruk

Committee Member

Lisa Rado.


This project explores how the modern novel restructures traditional conceptions of the Romantic sublime through complex depictions of parenthood. Using related strategies of representation, William Faulkner, E.M. Forster, D.H. Lawrence, and Virginia Woolf rewrite the traditional sublime as an intersubjective experience, dependent upon the recognition of social objectification and an ethics of reciprocal sympathy between mothers and fathers. Ultimately, The Modernist Sublime contributes to modernist scholarship by exploring the dynamics of modernist representations of parenthood and by focusing attention on how modernist authors reconsider the function of the sublime in the modern world.;Juxtaposing traditional aesthetics and Slavoj Žižek's concept of the "sublime object of ideology" with recent theoretical work regarding identity, I argue that these modern novelists construct what I term a "sublime subject" (or a person who functions in the space of the traditional sublime object) in order to reveal the possibility of a sublime experience that favors emotional connection over reason. These novelists critique the objectification of the other in favor of a sublime experience that reveals the subject-shattering power of empathy. Drawing on Agamben's concept of "homo sacer," in As I Lay Dying, Faulkner reveals the mother as "mater sacer," a woman who both enacts and receives acts of violence that show the ideological rituals regarding the abject mother. Employing recent queer theoretical work on the heteronormative family, Forster's Howards End reveals the possibility of a queer family only through the interaction of a "sublime subject." Perhaps more than any other author in this study, Lawrence presents marriage and the creation of family as a radical experience that results in mutual intersubjective sublime experiences through the generational pairings in The Rainbow. Finally, Woolf promotes sublime interactions between women as part of a feminist polemic embedded in To the Lighthouse. Tracing a transatlantic pattern, British and American modern novelists explore the possibility of human connection in direct confrontation to the aesthetic practice of objectification in both the traditional sublime and the theoretical discourse surrounding early twentieth century poetics.