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'Sketches from Flemish life'. Forms of Exemplarity and the Construction of Social Minds in Hendrik Conscience's Novels of Manners.

The Antwerp author Hendrik Conscience (1812-1883) went down in history as 'the man who taught his people to read'. The catchphrase not only captures the nationalist and didactic ambitions of his literature, but also his popularity among nineteenth-century readers, both in Belgium and abroad. Yet in spite of his reputation as one of the pioneers of Flemish literature, modern scholarly research on Conscience's oeuvre is scarce. We do not know, for example, how his popular stories actually addressed their audiences and which visions of reality they did construct. Without a structural investigation of the rhetoric of these texts in relation to the cultural context in which they were created and circulated, the national and international appeal of Conscience cannot be properly understood.The current PhD-project addresses for the first time a number of fundamental questions about the texts by which Conscience taught a people to read. It investigates how Conscience's novels of manners frame the reader's perception of social reality from a rhetorical perspective. The project pays careful attention to the way different degrees of generalizing reality (forms of exemplarity, cf. David2010) invite readers to identify with visions on reality that are presented as common, which can be described, following Palmer (2010), as instances of 'social minds' in the analyzed novels. By interpreting and positioning Conscience's narrative techniques in relation to contemporary discourses on the Flemish Movement, the European culture of sentiment, and the advent of realism, this projectsheds a whole new light on the position and function of his works within the Flemish and European literary field of the nineteenth century. The project achieves a deeper understanding of Conscience's narrative techniques and their ethical dimensions and reassesses the literary-historical significance of his oeuvre. Its results moreover provide an insight in the ways narrative form and content reflect and at the same time generate the attitudes, discourses, and ways of thinking that make up a culture.
Date:3 Jun 2019  →  2 Dec 2019
Disciplines:Literatures in Dutch
Project type:Collaboration project