Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Susan Mooney, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Marty Gould, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Hunt Hawkins, Ph.D.

Committee Member

R. Brandon Kershner, Ph.D.


twentieth-century British literature, Irish Literature, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Samuel Beckett, thing theory


Tracing the Material considers how James Joyce’s Ulysses, Virginia Woolf’s The Years, and Samuel Beckett’s Murphy represent material spaces and objects as a way of engaging with the fraught histories of England and Ireland. I argue that these three writers use spaces and objects to think through and critique nineteenth and early twentieth-century conflicts and transitions, particularly in the areas of empire, nationalism, gender, and family. Writing in the 1920s and 1930s, in the decline of British ascendency, the rise of the Irish Free State, and between the World Wars, these writers seek to interpret their history through the material world as a way of articulating their political, cultural, and social dissatisfactions, and to imagine the future. Drawing in part from Walter Benjamin’s materialist historiography and Jacques Derrida’s texts on spectrality and mourning, I investigate how the material world becomes the means through which nations and individuals express their guilt and desires, mourn losses, cut their losses, articulate the present, and anticipate the future. A study of the material world in these novels thus yields insights into how literary texts respond to history, both overtly and implicitly, foregrounding the importance of physical spaces and things in the larger narratives of national and personal history. My dissertation offers a new understanding of the way twentieth-century literature navigates its history through materiality, destabilizes subject-object distinctions, and exposes the often-unexpected power of the non-human world.