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Framing Narratives of Irony in Italo Svevo’s La coscienza di Zeno and Robert Musil’s Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften Open Access


Other title
Modernist literature
Narrative frame
Svevo's ironic critique of psychoanalysis
Philosophical novel
Affirmation and subversion of narrative conventions in Musil
Ironic novel
Tropological irony
Italo Svevo and Robert Musil
La coscienza di Zeno (Zeno's Coscience)
Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften (The Man without Qualities)
Literary realism
Non-realistic fiction
Representational irony
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Tomuța, Sorin
Supervisor and department
Verdicchio, Massimo (Modern Languages and Cultural Studies)
Examining committee member and department
Anselmi, William (Modern Languages and Literatures)
Burch, Robert (Philosophy)
Whitinger, Raleigh (Modern Languages and Cultural Studies)
Sywenky, Irene (Modern Languages and Literatures)
Braz, Albert (English and Film Studies)
Harrison, Thomas (Italian, UCLA)
Comparative Literature

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
This dissertation examines the use of irony in Italo Svevo’s La coscienza di Zeno and Robert Musil’s Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften. While both these novels can be said to be ironic, the manner in which the two writers choose to employ irony differs substantially. For the purposes of this study, Svevo’s tropological irony will be distinguished from Musil’s representational irony. Tropological irony consists in a series of dramatic reversals that the protagonist’s views of himself and of the world undergo in the course of the novel. The analysis of tropological irony exposes Svevo’s powerful critique of psychoanalysis, both as a theory of the psyche and more importantly, as a therapy designed to identify and treat various neuroses. I argue that this critique starts with Svevo’s ironic subversion of the two meanings of coscienza, “consciousness” and “conscience,” and constitutes the background against which Zeno’s most important reversal, from illness to health, unfolds. Unlike tropological irony, representational irony is primarily formal in nature. Dissatisfied with the illusory sense of order and cohesion that the narrative conventions governing the historical-realist novel of the nineteenth century create, but aware at the same time that no writer can completely step outside the existing patterns of narrations, Musil resorts to representational irony as a way out of this impasse. His strategy entails a double movement, of simultaneous affirmation and negation, which can be shown to replicate, on a larger scale, the same paradoxical dynamics present in the structure of irony as a trope. To illustrate how representational irony operates in Musil’s novel, my dissertation proves how the notion of narrative frame is concomitantly affirmed and undermined.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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