Date of Award

Fall 1994

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Jean Kennard


This study identifies, defines and analyzes a sub-genre of modern Anglo-American fiction distinguished by the presence of "visionary" characters, who possess the ability to see acutely into the contingency and anguish of the human condition in this world rather than--as with the popular conception of "visionary"--our potentialities in another. Their experience of vision flows from an "existential moment," a type of epiphany which discloses the essential Nothingness that exists beneath the systems, structures, attitudes and assumptions through which we attempt to order our daily lives. Most importantly, the visionary's heightened consciousness leads to an existence defined by individual choice, responsibility for oneself and toward others, and passionate commitment to the pursuit of Sartrean authenticity--and as such marks an ontological evolution from the "quotidian," a state of "bad faith" characterized by "blindness" to the unsettling truths with which the visionary confronts us. It is my contention that visionary characters, who are invariably themselves readers, enact paradigmatic possibilities for being for their readers, and in so doing, demonstrate art's most essential function: the ability to rouse the faculties to act.

This study deals with, in order, five texts: Ivor Winter's "The Brink of Darkness," Miss Lonelyhearts, Irwin Shaw's "Act of Faith," The Voyage Out and Lord Jim. The study's frame of "Brink" and Lord Jim provides a contrast between a character who recoils from the implications of vision and one who comes to be defined by his pursuit of them. ML and "Act" demonstrate the coherence of visionary narratives through the juxtaposition of a modern masterwork and a relatively obscure short story. Finally, Voyage, in reflecting the perspective of a woman visionary, offers perhaps the most intense experience of vision in the study.