Narratives of conquest and destruction : the automobile in the major fiction of E.M. Forster and F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1910-1925 : a dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

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Massey University
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History is all about selecting, recording, and interpreting political voices - from the moment they first rise above common murmurings, through their time of cultural ascendancy, and, finally, through the period of their decline and dissolution. In so selecting, recording, and interpreting, historians are by definition charged with distinguishing between discourses that are culturally significant and those that contribute to the creation of background noise - that is, clamour which resists being coerced into meaning but which is nonetheless crucial to cultural definition since it acts as an ideological backdrop. History is therefore defined differentially and so, paradoxically, those voices that constitute cultural background are neither parasitic nor secondary to the strident voices of social change. Novelists too, create cultural backdrops for their ideas, and it is our task as readers to distinguish between semantically significant elements (figures, motifs, and images) and those background facets of a text that contribute to vraisemblance or the process of actualisation where the reader reconciles fiction with real world phenomena. This background that is developed may therefore be referred to as the cultural noise of a novel: a well-recognised matrix of phenomena against which readers may authenticate a decoded set of elements or motifs deemed semantically significant. 'Actualisation' - that is to say, the business of naturalising a text - is, then, 'the most elementary operation that the reader performs'. (Malmgren: 52) However, whilst elementary enough, the process is nonetheless crucial since without it our belief in the novelist's world would be seriously undermined. Thus, in the fiction of the early twentieth century, the occasional roar of a passing aeroplane or the throb of an idling motor-car might contribute to an impression of cultural authenticity. After all, by then, aeroplanes and motor-cars had become fundamental components of modern life; so much go they were then, as now, ironically accepted as natural aspects of our milieu. But our habitualised perception has blinded us to the meanings of technology and so the motor-car, in particular, has come to be regarded as a mere part of the cultural noise of the novel - a fact that explains the complete absence of secondary texts dedicated to an examination of the automobile in fiction. Yet even the most cursory consideration of novels and stories written between 1900 and 1925 (when the motor-car was a comparatively new technology) reveals that the machine was regarded as something more than a reified end product. Rather, it was seen 'as praxis and production'; as a symbol of profound significance. (Jameson: 43) Thus, Kenneth Grahame, E. M. Forster, William Carlos Williams, D. H. Lawrence, F. Scott Fitzgerald and others encourage an interpretation of the motor-car that takes us well beyond the primary sphere of actualisation and vraisemblance. For them, the automobile is much more than cultural noise; it is a cultural icon: a material representation of powerful and enduring ideas. E. M. Forster and F. Scott Fitzgerald, in particular, display an acute recognition of the duality of the motor-car. Accordingly, in their fictions, as in those of D. H. Lawrence and others, the automobile is represented as something of a paradox: on one hand a vehicle of agency and conquest and on the other a machine of death and destruction.
E. M. Forster, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Automobiles in literature, Cars in literature