The Archaeological Encounter in British Fiction, 1880–1940

Abstract: Ancient artefacts appeared frequently in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century British fiction. Prehistoric stone circles, enigmatic potsherds, Egyptian mummies, and other such antiquities featured in everything from fin de siècle adventure narratives to the major works of High Modernism. Why did such a diverse range of authors turn to archaeology in this period? What exactly did archaeological objects signify in their novels? And which new literary forms emerged from this intersection of fiction and archaeology? This dissertation examines this archaeological encounter in British fiction and finds that a central reason for its flourishing in these decades is that authors drew inspiration from the profound changes that were at that time transforming archaeology. Between 1880 and 1940, archaeology developed from a loosely defined set of ideas and practices into a well-funded, professional, and popular discipline with specialized methods, theories, and institutions. Through in-depth research into archaeology as it was practiced and promoted, this study aims to reveal the specific associations archaeology held for contemporary authors and thereby restore to literary history the debates, ideas, and contexts of a discipline in formation.This study examines the representation of archaeological artefacts in the fiction of a diverse body of writers, including Agatha Christie, Mary Butts, and Arthur Conan Doyle, while offering detailed analyses of the presence of archaeology in the works of Thomas Hardy, H. Rider Haggard, and Virginia Woolf. Drawing on key concepts from Thing Theory, it argues that through their depiction of archaeological things these authors transformed archaeological practices into literary forms: they staged contemporary archaeological methods and theories by turning them into narrative, descriptive, and paratextual strategies for the representation of the material world, including modern objects. Overall, this study outlines a new approach to the fiction of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries by providing a detailed account of the cultural encounter between archaeology and fiction at a time when both were in the process of radical transformation. In sum, it shows that archaeology, literally a science of old things, gave rise to important new modes of literary material representation in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century fiction.

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