"Man is made a mystery" : the evolution of Arthur Machen's religious thought.
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Reiter, Geoffrey (Geoffrey Richard), 1979-
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Arthur Machen (1863-1947) was a Welsh author now known almost exclusively for his late nineteenth-century weird horror tales such as The Great God Pan (1894) and The Three Impostors (1895). The few Machen critics who have researched his corpus as a whole sometimes deride his later works, and whether they do or not, most have tried to read his entire body of work as a thematic unity. Even if they admit that his changing outlook on life did affect his fiction, critics often believe his interest in mystical ecstasy—as articulated in his 1899 work Hieroglyphics—can be read across his entire career. Absent from this critical discourse is an examination that takes seriously the distinct worldviews of Machen's fiction at its various stages. This dissertation represents a diachronic examination of Machen’s fiction, treating the entire scope of his fiction while proposing several stages in which his altered philosophy led to a concomitant alteration of literary style and structure. Because the events of his life are important to this diachronic reading, chapter one begins with an introductory biography of Arthur Machen, then proceeds to a summary of the critical response to Machen's work and the relevance of this dissertation in that critical conversation. Chapter two treats the first major phase of Machen's career (1890-95), arguing that the horror of his most famous works stems from a fear of the implications of his own skepticism at the time. Chapter three traces his second phase (1896-99), when his initial doubt gives way to belief in a form of ecstatic mysticism, a belief that is still ill-defined and polymorphous, resulting in a fiction characterized by florid imagery but philosophical tension. Chapter four examines the impact of Machen's conversion to Christianity on his twentieth-century career (1899-1936), suggesting that it is marked by a technique of juxtaposition, in which mundane reality is contrasted with ecstatic spiritual experience. Chapter five evaluates some late writings in Machen's Christian career (1930s), positing that their acknowledged aesthetic failure results from a return to the themes of his first stage even though his worldview can no longer accommodate such terrors.