Date of Award

Spring 2018

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Robin Hackett

Second Advisor

Siobhan Senier

Third Advisor

Delia Konzett


Writers committed to Modernist ideas of artistic autonomy may find that commitment challenged during times of socio-political crisis. This dissertation explores three writers who developed a similar literary strategy at such times: they pushed fictionality toward and beyond its limits, but ultimately preserved that fictionality, revealing new value in fiction after challenging it. Virginia Woolf, Samuel R. Delany, and J. M. Coetzee shaped their writings at these moments to provide readers with an experience that I argue is congruent with the goals of critical pedagogy as espoused by Paulo Freire, bell hooks, and others. Such a reading experience avoids an authoritarian mode of communication (a writer dictating a message to a passive audience) by requiring any successful reader of the work to be an active interpreter of the texts' forms, contents, and contexts. The pedagogies Woolf, Delany, and Coetzee infuse into such works as The Years, The Tale of Plagues and Carnivals, The Mad Man, Elizabeth Costello, Diary of a Bad Year, and Summertime free those works from being either narrowly aestheticist or quotidian social realism; instead, each asks for an active interpretation, one that supports certain habits of reading that may develop into habits of thinking, and those habits of thinking may then affect habits of being. By pushing against fiction's fictionality, these writers of very different backgrounds, geographies, privileges, situations, tastes, and styles created texts that do the pedagogic work of liberating the reader toward a critical, ethical thinking that less Modernist, less polyphonic, and more traditionally fictional texts do not - even if those texts are more explicitly committed to particular socio-political visions. Monologic, preaching, propagandistic texts may present ethical thought, but they are less likely to stimulate it than the polyphonic pedagogies practiced by Woolf, Delany, and Coetzee in their fiction.