Term of Award

Spring 2020

Degree Name

Master of Arts in English (M.A.)

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)

Copyright Statement / License for Reuse

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Department of Literature

Committee Chair

Dustin Anderson

Committee Member 1

Caren Town

Committee Member 2

Joe Pellegrino


Literature that responds to loss and expresses mourning, a genre referred to as the elegy, traditionally follows an adaptive pattern in which a mourner reaches consolation and comfort. In the modern period, however, mourning transformed into destructive experiences that were notably private. With this phenomenon of greater social and emotional isolation, writers like Sylvia Plath, Samuel Beckett, and Elizabeth Bishop expressed rumination and irresolution. In contrast, before the twentieth century, elegies were not only more consolatory, but there was a greater emphasis on shared feeling, and this communal type of mourning is more often adaptive. By grieving together in the same physical location, by fostering a community of grief, and by practicing empathy with another human being, sentimental grief was more resolved. Through close-reading analyses of various elegiac texts, I unpack how public and private spheres have shifted in the modern period, and I propose how this transition has impacted the grieving process across cultures. By analyzing literature from a transnational perspective, I demonstrate how modern mourners in Ireland and America express their grief maladaptively. Ultimately, while scenes from popular sentimental novels depict individuals coming together to productively mourn in public spheres, modern poetry and drama depict individuals stuck in post-traumatic, destructive, distanced, and inconsolable psychological states.

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Research Data and Supplementary Material