Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts




Many critics have approached the subject of modern epic, but like E. M. W. Tillyard, they dismiss "eccentric" literature from consideration on the claim that the execution of epic requires "balance" and "objectivity." It seems unfortunate to dismiss works that--while remaining essentially negativistic and subjective in their impact-uniquely capture the spirit of their milieu and refract in a singular way a "choric" effect (to borrow Tillyard's term); that is, "the unconscious metaphysic of a group." To accommodate the inverted comparison between epic and certain individuated works by modern authors, I here attempt to define a form I call the "negative epic." The term negative epic, as I use it, implies a narrative form that opposes traditional epic both in conventions and in assertions about the society with which it deals. The comparison re- lies on analysis of plot patterns& essentially,the quest in epic and the negative quest in negative epic. In outlining an evolution for the negative epic, I begin with the contrast between the ancient epics and the Bible; then I deal with Jonathan Swift and George Gordon,Lord Byron to prepare for an analysis of three modern novels by Andre Gide, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, and Malcolm Lowry. At the center of the comparisons lies a recurrent narrative pattern.