Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Fred C. Frey


This dissertation, "'All This World Is Full of Mystery:' The Fiction of Ellen Douglas," provides an introduction to the life of Ellen Douglas (pen name for Josephine Haxton) and a study of the author's major fiction from A Family's Affairs through Can't Quit You, Baby (1962-1988). The first chapter gives an overview of Douglas's life preceding her first novel, A Family's Affairs, with a focus on those people and events contributing to the themes and structure of her writing. The subsequent chapters trace the development of her craft, discussing in chronological order A Family's Affairs, Black Cloud, White Cloud, Where the Dreams Cross, Apostles of Light, The Rock Cried Out, A Lifetime Burning, and Can't Quit You, Baby. In all these works, mystery permeates narrative, as characters portray human beings' basic inability to understand the forces at play both within and outside themselves. On one level, the writer depicts primarily white, middle class people going about their day-to-day activities. On another level, however, she dislodges readers' perceptions of the norm by using the everyday to reveal how unknowable the events and people one takes for granted really are. Underscoring her stories with myth is one way the author implies the large scope of mystery. She draws on comparative mythology, particularly Joseph Campbell's theory of the monomyth and Heinrich Zimmer's "The King and the Corpse," as well as fairy tales and mythic archetypes. She also conveys mystery by manipulating point of view. Irony undermines the validity of the overt story, and she increasingly includes the author as a character to remind the reader of writing's subjectivity. Dreams often lie beyond one's conscious control, and Douglas employs them to emphasize the unknown realms within and outside the individual. Myth, point of view, and dreams all function to underscore the mystery which permeates and transcends human existence in her fiction.