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Windows of alienation on Matthew Arnold’s “Dover beach”

Johnson, Christine Deanne (2014) Windows of alienation on Matthew Arnold’s “Dover beach”. Masters thesis (MA), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

On the surface, Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” (1867), reads as a declaration that love is the source of human salvation. This thesis peers beneath that surface to demonstrate that a more ambivalent message of alienation and liminality is also present. It begins by using Arnold’s strong construction of a window motif in the first verse of the poem to cast a theoretical lens through which the remainder of the text can be read: the window creates an impression of alienation and liminality that affect the other issues tackled by Arnold in the poem. The second chapter makes use of critical publications and writings such as those of William Wordsworth in his Lyrical Ballads of 1798 and 1800, as well as other poetic works by Arnold, to show how “Dover Beach” grapples with its own understanding of the proper place and form of poetry. The third chapter uses similar sources and research to discuss Arnold’s representation of the conflict between Charles Lyell’s scientific publication, The Principles of Geology (1830-33), and the theology of Christian faith dominant in nineteenth-century society. The fourth chapter builds on this to show that Arnold’s conflicted and alienated views of these issues cause him to undertake a re-assessment of the meaning behind human life cycles. Moving in stages from conception and birth to death and the possibility of rebirth, this chapter traces these depictions whilst comparing “Dover Beach” to other notable works by Arnold. These three focal issues build on the conclusions of the first chapter: that Arnold’s attitude to the issues he presents is symptomatic of the kind of alienation and liminality that many Victorians experienced and which many twenty-first century readers can identify with. His only conclusion to the conflicts he perceives is not that a definitive resolution or decision must be made. Rather, he suggests there can be a removal from the violence and liminality through a turn to interiority and human companionship. Whilst this reading is often seen to be a positive conclusion, this thesis Christine Deanne Johnson Windows of Alienation on Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” examines the way that Arnold also presents it as one of foreboding, as the narrator is left entirely alienated, finding only temporary solace from the modern situation in “Dover Beach”, until death and the possibility of oblivion inevitably take over.

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