Tag Archives: omniscient narrator

Virginia Woolf – Mrs. Dalloway (1925)

The opening declarative sentence: “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” The question remains, “to whom did she say this?” From the beginning, performance of the self is highlighted, how we comport ourselves within restricted fields to determinate others. Also, after the lark and the plunge (exaltation of larks is the term of venery…connect with Yeats discourse on birds), the field of phenomena is presented by way of clauses separated by semi-colons, a formal feature characteristic of Woolf. Think of the semi-colon as somewhere between the (Joycean) colon and the more traditional comma—granting relative autonomy to clauses, but binding them into some sort of narrative that makes the part more than the whole. Bring together with Hulmean-Bergsonian reflections on stasis and movement—how to render movement in an instant..-to render becoming more fundamental than being, etc. Further, a good example of what she calls the cotton-wool of daily life, how the myriad impressions (along with certain social roles such as wife, host, etc.) become constitutive of the self. Clarissa actually feels herself becoming “invisible, unseen; unknown” (11).

THE URBAN IN WOOLF: as opposed to Joyce, in which Bloom sifts and sorts through a barrage of commodities and advertisements, the Woolfean character sees the reflected back in the objects that we confront in our daily rounds: So while Clarissa might “slice like a knife through everything,” opening up an absence consonant with her subjective shrinkage, she also recognizes in “the ebb and flow of things,” the survival of a history she has already brought into being. CRUCIAL: the temporal present of everyday experience is punctuated by a history that is never suppressed by habit; rather, it is disclosed through habit. At times, the self seems to dissolve: individuals are united into loose collectivities when they see the figure aristocratic god passing in the carriage, or the new god of advertising appearing in the sky–much like in Wandering Rocks. This points forward to the experiments with the multiple self in The Waves.

Contextualize this reading of the ordinary within her distinction of being and non-being in “Sketch of the Past.” It is somehow as if non-being is exactly those trivial facts of life that we always overlook, but which fiction must labor to unveil. How this intersects with her notion of the trivial in “Modern Fiction” is up for debate. One can at least say that the play between being and non-being is not immediately conscripted into Hegelian becoming, but non-being seems able to exist as an autonomous field. Relate this to the Time Passes section in To the Lighthouse. Also, worth contrasting the various modes of habit that characterize Proust, Beckett, Beckett on Proust, and Woolf. For Beckett, habit makes like possible…but it also circumscribes life within its tight loop of repetition. For Woolf (and for Proust, too), habit is precisely that which evades representation because it is so close to the very mechanism of memory itself. Elucidating habit, outside of the scope of habit, is precisely the task they set for themselves.

And then contrast Dalloway’s phenomenology with that of Septimus Harding, who is, in some sense, a too perfect reader of modernist literature (“susceptibility to impressions had been his undoing”)…that is, his psyche has undergone the same forms of fragmentation that lead to the arbitrary collection “anarchy and futility” of daily life. He is not capable of making new wholes, in the Eliotic sense. Rather, he finds beauty in the advertisement in the sky, “

bestowing upon him in their inexhaustible clarity and laughing goodness one shape after another of unimaginable beauty and signaling their intention to provide him, for nothing, for ever, for looking merely, with beauty, more beauty! Tears ran down his cheeks. (22)

Can relate this to Benjamin’s theory of aura and the commodity. In some sense, he has understood too exactly the mechanism of the modern artwork. But Clarissa is attuned to the social coordinates that are in fact ordering this fragmentation. Like the viceregal calvalcade in Wandering Rocks, the carriage draws together and orders the perceptual fields of the myriad characters in the opening passage. But even them, Clarissa must stand in front of mirror to constitute to herself a coherence of the self. Talk about this mirror in terms of the many other mirrors: the cracked looking glass in Wilde and Stephen’s Telemachus chapter; the pool in Nausicaa; deKoven in Rich and Strange; Mill on the Floss; Lady of Shallot; etc. Peter also has his own idea of beauty, on that inheres within the furniture of drawing rooms, piano, gramophone and corridor, the glimpse of the social as it is revealed in the sudden moment of seeing a dinner party through a window (163)

The not entirely arbitrary imposition of unity in the form of the bell tolling from Big Ben: Contrast this with the Eliot-Joyce mythical method. Also contrast with the bell ringing in Murphy, how Murphy’s “internal” clock is impossibly aligned with such tolling. Such devices are common, present even in Gabriel Oak’ watch that has a minute hand but no hour hand. Talk about Bergson. Spetimus has a different relationship to Time: it engulfs him, its splits it husk, poured its riches over him (cf. Baudelaire: “Le Temps m’engloutit minute par minute”). SO TIME: on the one hand,  can become overwhelming if not ordered, if it becomes overly subjective (as in the case of Septimus), but it’s overly objective ordering (in the form of Big Ben) can be equally harmful. 

Sally Seton and the kiss. Established as an alternative pre-history. In general, talk about how the past punctuates the present. Contrast the shock of the past in Septimus, to the healthy sublimation of the past in someone like Clarissa. Also crucial spatial aspect: her memory is located in the pastoral countryside, while Spetimus’ memory is dislocated from that landscape…on the battlefield (Evans appears with frightening immediacy).

Peter, at the end, feels ecstasy and terror (much like “terrible beauty” of “Easter 1916”) at the “presenting” of Clarissa Dalloway. Read Peter as a Prufrock of sorts, an educated professional class on longer valued in terms of land, blood and money, but in terms of functional work within the system of Imperialism. Compare to Cecil in Passage to India…the product of an England that has dissolved (in contrast to Whitbread, Bradshaw, Richard Dalloway, etc.)


E.M. Forster – A Passage to India (1924)

Englishwoman Adela Quested and her incipient mother-in-law Mrs. Moore are hanging about in India while Adela tries to decide whether she wants to marry the hyper-nationalistic and dull Ronny Heaslop. Mrs. Moore runs in Dr. Aziz and sparks up a friendship. Aziz is also friends with Cyril Fielding, a Brit who is about as friendly and cosmopolitan as one could imagine. Aziz invites them all to the Marabar caves, partially to satisfy Adela’s craving to see “the real India.” While there, Mrs. Moore is stricken with claustrophobia, and the echo “Boum” in the cave, obliterating all forms of linguistic differentiation, is so great that she doubts her Christianity–that is, her country. Adela and Aziz press on with a guide. Adela wanders into a cave and the same echo is so great that she thinks Aziz has attempted to rape her. She flees. Aziz is arrested when he returns by train. Cryril defends him. When Mrs. Moore apathetically expresses her belief in his innocence, Ronny sends her back to England; she dies during the voyage. During the trial, Adela realizes that it was only an echo, not a rape. Aziz is free and everyone parts. Eventually Cyril Fielding returns with his new wife to visit Aziz in the hindu town where he now lives. Both are still friends, but because of the colonial relationship, the sky says, “not yet.”

“Except for the Marabar Caves–and they are twenty miles off–the city of Chandrapore presents nothing extraordinary…” So the novel opens. Two things: the urban India is rigorously dull in the narrator eyes–a narrator that frequently slides into extensive descriptions of India life in the present tense, much like the narrator of Howard’s End did 14 years earlier with regard to London. So while there is center-periphery divide (told through the eyes of the characters, mostly) the narrator reproduces many of the local divides (country/city, upper/lower) that exist in both England and India. The narrative effects are drawn to overtly:

Most of life is so dull there is nothing to be said about it, and the books and talk that would describe it as interesting are obliged to exaggerate, in the hope of justifying their own existence. (132)

Yet this precedes by a few pages the incredible (discredible?) echos that drive Mrs. Moore and Adela into hysteria. Perhaps the hysterics are caused by the echo’s truth revealing function with regard to the narrative’s stance towards national and religious difference:

The echo in a Marabar cave is not like these, it is entirely devoid of distinction. Whatever is said, the same monotonous noise replies, and quivers up and down the walls until it is absorbed into the roof. “Boum” is the sound as far as the human alphabet can express it, or “bou-oum.” or “ou-boum,”–utterly dull. (147)

“Dullness” thus becomes a linguistic, existential and national character–and the blending of these three registers is in itself dull. Can think of the echo as a too perfect mimesis, subverting the claims for English superiority that are insisted on throughout. Note that it is precisely the threat of “miscegenation” that gets the English folks all up in arms about Aziz–another potential “dullness.” When Fielding returns years later to see Aziz, they get into a minor boat crash: “That was the climax, as far as India admits of one” (315).

Aziz’s concluding assertion of national independence (the outburst is sort of ridiculous) is registered (by the sky) as the precondition for an interpersonal connection. An ethics of difference or something of that sort.


Henry James – The Wings of the Dove (1902)

Kate Croy, the child of a poor and socially scorned father, is given the choice to be brought up by her aunt or stay with her father. She stays with aunt, but her desire to be married to Merton Densher, a poor British journalist, is complicated by her Aunt Maud Lowden’s desire to marry her well (to Lord Mark). Merton and Kate declare an informal engagement before he leaves for the US on an assignment from his newspaper. While there, we learn that he has met Milly Theale, a fabulously rich but somewhat culturally naive American, and Susan Shepherd, her culturally savvy tag-along. They are traveling in Italy, but decide to go to London, where they fall in with the crowd at Lancaster Gate. Everyone likes everyone else, but everyone also “working” everyone else according to their “quantity” and ability to “give.” Milly confides in Kate that she has a terminal disease. Merton returns and Kate tries to convince him to marry Milly (with the secret intention of her dying and leaving her money to Merton so that she can then marry Merton and have Milly’s money). Milly goes to Venice and everyone follows. Merton is conflicted about what to do, and Lord Mark has suspicions: he suspects that Merton and Kate are engaged despite Milly’s insistence that Merton has declared his love for her. Lord Mark spills the beans and Milly dies. She leaves some money to Merton anyway, but he refuses to take the money and instead says that Kate can have the money (but she will lose him) or she can refuse the money and marry. Merton says, I will marry you in an hour “as we were,” but Milly responds, “We will never be as we were.”

Combines, in James terms, “the narrative and dramatic lock,” but the theatrical melodrama, of which there is a lot, takes place “offstage”: we do not see the betrayal of the conspiracy, its revelation to Milly, or the immediate effects on Milly.

Milly’s “gift” to Merton and Kate has a similar damaging effect as it does Ralph Touchet’s “gift” to Isobel Archer: she is given social freedom, but it destroys her by “grinding her into conventionality.” However, Milly’s gift is also the opportunity for these two individuals to separate and gain a certain amount of narrative freedom. But it is through a refusal that such freedom is gained. Talk about this in relation to James shift from omniscient narrator to the creator of the “Scenario.”

Figure of the Dove. Taken from Psalms: David wishes to be a dove so that he may avoid death, but God is also likened to a Dove that descends and protects. How is Milly both? And does this bird differ from, say, the eagle in Isaiah that soars on wings because of a trust in the Lord that grants a renewal of strength. The Dove is inherently weak. The wings are also tipped with gold (connect to Golden Bowl and all the other instances of Golden (Marius, Dorian Gray, Mill on the Floss, Tale of Two Cities)). Simply put, Milly in life plays the object of desire (a dove that can be petted) to the a subject of desire in death that literally envelops all the characters.

Quantity – People are often referred to as quantities. This successfully integrates characters into the perverted circuit of gifts that sustains the rampant exploitation of London society. Also, Aunt Maud is referred to as “large,” as if James is playing with the idea that enough of something, anything, can tip over into a quality in itself. This is what happens to Milly’s money in the end: does it convert into a love? Perhaps, but a love that makes an impossible demand if it is taken up.

Life – As in the Ambassadors, Milly is obsessed with “living.” She goes to London readying herself for the “assault of life.” The anxiety of living a full life runs throughout James work, finding its most refined expression in “The Beast in Jungle,” where Marcher confides to May that his one flaw (what  makes him unique) is his sense of perpetual anticipation. May dies knowing that what he has been waiting for has come: the terrible realization that he has wasted a life in waiting. Leo Bersani associates the indefinable “It” for which Marcher is waiting with the Freudian “Id” which contains the pure potentiality of unconscious desire. In James this expectancy and potentiality becomes constitutive of the subject itself: Can we read Densher’s final freedom (and his gift of freedom to Kate) as pure potentiality? Importantly, this must be routed through an indirect object: Kate’s gold.

Thingliness – Use Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology to talk about how emotions, states of consciousness, desire, relations, take on texture: “the sticky and slippery couch” on the first page, the sheer density of the perceptual field when Merton visits Aunt Maud for the first time is disarming, crowding out the ability to think lucidly. Aunt Maud treats Merton with a “softness…the quality of fin velvet, menat to fold thick, but stretched a little thin” (502).

Sickness – Compare to The Good Soldier, in which bourgeois Londoners are constantly afflicted with “heart problems” that do not in fact exist as a pretext for traveling to a spa, where they can carry on elicit affairs with one another. The one character that does die of a heart problem (Maisie Maiden swallowed by a suitcase) is the one persistently abused by everyone else, especially Edward.

Novel as mode of enquiry – how can we conceive of late James novels as modes of enquiry into the incalculable adjustments and comportments that lead to subject formation. Can we think about it in terms of the temporal limit of affect–not where affect ends but where it beings–where the concessions, intersubjective emotions, etc.make possible a subject but do not bind that subject at the other end? Wings of the Dove refuses to put a limit on the affectively possible: it is rendered (however negatively) as the pure potential of not exercising an exploitative power.

Henry James – The Ambassadors (1903)


Lambert Strether is supposed to meet his friend Waymarsh at a hotel, but Watmarsh is late, and in the interlude Strether meets Miss Gostrey. Strether has gone traveling with Waymarsh under the pretense of showing him Europe (he eventually does get seduced by the allure of Paris and by Mme Barras), but really with a mission–given to him by Woolett, MA socialite, his fiancé Mrs. Newsome–to ‘rescue’ Chad Newsome from his affair with the older Marie de Vionnet. Strether is himself attracted to Marie, and is at first unsure whether Chad is in love with her or her beautiful daughter Jeanne. His sense of disappointment and missed opportunity leads him to confide in Chad’s friend Bilham, telling him to “Live!” Strether is convinced that Chad should not return home to the family business, because he is so impressed with his improvement and sophistication. Mrs. Newsome therefore sends over new Ambassadors (the Pococks)–most importantly, Sarah Pocock, Chad’s sister–who disagrees with Strether’s assessment and denounces Marie de Vionnet as a woman of ill repute. Strether escapes to the French countryside and runs into Chad and Marie on a boat. He returns to Paris, rejects an implied proposal of marriage from Miss Gostrey, and then goes back to the United States.

from the PREFACE:

– Contrast James’ third-person point of view with David Copperfield
– The Novel attempts to treat the manner as if it were an essential matter. Talk about this in terms of Tilling’s essay, but also in terms of taste (manner) and nourishment (matter). How does Jame offer a paradigm of tasting that overturns the traditional denigration of ‘taste’ as mere dilettantism?
– How does this treatment of manner lead to the “Grace of Intensity” that is the special achievement of the elastic novel form (allows for extended scenes of “over-preparation” for the actual “scenes” of passing action)…and how can this be talked about in terms of an ethics?



Strether’s profession of identity: “[Putting on my name] is exactly the thing that I’m reduced to doing for myself. It seems to rescue a little, you see, from the wreck of hopes and ambitions, the refuse-heap of disappointments and failures my one presentable little scrap of identity” (51). This is a set up for Strether’s impending susceptibility to the “success” of Chad. The advantage, for James, of choosing a mature hero, is that he can tell the story of maturation through te eyes of a character that poignantly feels the pain of not expanding one’s horizons.

Strether’s speech to Bilham is perhaps the most importnat moment in the novel, according to James himself: “Do what you like so long as you don’t make my mistake. For it was a mistake. Live!” (132). In the context of a novel that deals so little with actions or events associated with the action of life, one can take this passage as a justification of James’ artistic practice–an art that makes or constructs life out of the myriad shadings of manner that are supposedly secondary, but in fact primary to that which we call “Life.” Or perhaps read as a moment of self-conscious critique…I’ve not lived so that you might live… At any rate, this concept of life is radically delimited (“a tin mould…into which, a helpless jelly, one’s consciousness is poured”) unless one recognize that it is limited…and this precisely where living and freedom begin…

The novel, from Book Five onwards, is an account of how Strether’s lost youth becomes sensual, accessible to touch, an “affair of the senses” (284) that approximates a momentary freedom of the moment (283).

The tableau vivant of the approaching row boat containing Marie and Chad. Not only “a chance in a million,” and therefore a good time to talk about novelistic artifice, but also a good chance to talk abotu the relationship between artistic representation and reality–that is, mimesis. Chad and Marie appear as if they were in a painting…as if the painting demanded their presence. Only slowly does the perfect painting break down, as Strether realizes that familiar lurking in the defamiliarized scene.

The family business that goes unnamed: Chad refers to returning to “the sale of the object advertised” (341). (Cf. Bill Brown, “Advertising Late James”)




Key Passages – Middlemarch (1872)

But any one watching keenly the stealthy convergence of human lots, sees a slow preparation of effects from one life of another, which tells like a calculated irony on the indifferent or the frozen stare with which we look at our unintroduced neighbor. Destiny stands by sarcastic with our dramatis personae folded in her hand.(122)

The Eliot-narrator is constantly drawing attention to the inability of actors to comprehend the temporal unfolding of events. But it serves to contain the contingency that seemingly results in novelistic resolution. She calls it “irony,” at it could very well apply to those less refined forms of temporal lag, etc. that define the narrative strategies of David Copperfield and Great Expectations. In those early works, the fiction of totality is still being toyed with, even if it is an accepted fiction.


We are all of us born in moral stupidity, taking the world as an udder to feed our supreme selves: Dorothea had early begun to emerge from that stupidity, but yet it had been easier to her to imagine how she would devote herself to Causabon, and become wise and strong in his strength and wisdom, than to conceive with the distinctness which is no longer reflection but feeling — an idea wrought back to the directness of sense, like the solidity of objects — that he had an equivalent centre of self, whence the lights and shadows must always fall with a certain difference. (243)

Dorothea’s emotional maturation converges here with Eliot’s continual refusal to let the reader entirely sympathize with or hate a single character. Even Causabon, for all his faults, has a kernel of humaness to inspire empathy. But overlaid is the discourse of thought and feeling–Dorothea must learn to treat others as self-conscious others to the degree that it is a sensory impression, a foundation for experience rather than a goal to which experience may lead. This is is a curious intervention into the discourse of sympathy, sensibility, etc.


One morning, some weeks after her arrival at Lowick, Dorothea – but why always Dorothea? Was her point of view the only possible one with regard to this marriage? I protest against all interest, all our effort at understanding being given to the young skins that look blooming in spite of trouble for these too will get faded, and will know the older and more eating griefs which we are helping to neglect. (312)

Just a moment of narratorial self-reflection that confounds the politics of identification informing most Victorian fiction from Austen onwards. The intervening authorial voice is familiar from Austen, Trollope and, later, James (but only in small doses, such as Maisie).


She opened her curtains, and looked out towards the bit of road that lay in view, with fields beyond, outside the entrance gates. On the road there was a man with a bundle on his back and a woman carrying her baby; in the field she could see figures moving – perhaps the shepherd with his dog. Far off in the beding sky was the pearly light; and she felt the largeness of the world and the manifold wakings of men to labour and endurance. She was a part of that involuntary, palpitating life, and could neither look out on it from her luxurious shelter as a mere spectator, nor hide here eyes in selfish complaining. (chp 80)

A moment, not unlike those moments in Our Mutual Friend and in Hardy, in which life becomes objectified, existing outside the subject. See Gallagher’s work in Body Politic on how this gets construed into an ideology of bare-life: the equation of labor with biological sustenance and life itself.


Every limit is a beginning as well as an ending. Who can quit young lives after being long in company with them, and not desire to know what befell them in their after-years? For the fragment of life, however typical, is not the sample of an even web: promises may not be kept, and an ardent outset may be followed by declension; latent powers may find their long-awaited opportunity; a past error may urge a gran retrieval. (890)

This will link up with the opening bars of Daniel Deronda, in which the idea of a beginning is criticized. Here, Eliot satisfies the reader’s desire to treat these characters as individuals with offstage lives, but in Deronda that fiction will be left obviously unresolved. See Miller in Narrative and its Discontents.


Certainly those determining acts of her life were not ideally beautiful. They were the mixed result of a young and noble impulse struggling amidst the conditions of an imperfect social state, in which great feelings will often take the aspect of error, and great faith the aspect of illusion. For there is no creature whose inward being is so strong that it is not greatly determined by what lies outside it. (896)

States succinctly a theme that runs throughout Victorian Literature, especially works like Vanity Fair, Bleak House, David Copperfield, all of Hardy, in which institutions (financial, industrial, ecclesiastical) become determinate. In Hardy, there will be an uncanny convergency of contingency, chance and fate as they gett connected to the time of industrial capital.

Also a good passage for talking about Gallagher’s reading of Eliot. She says that in Eliot (and 19th-century realist fiction more generally) characters should not be viewed within the simple binary of general and specific. Rather, the general should be seen as existing between the particularity of extra-diagetic reference and the particularity of fictional realization on the other. Thus we should not see realism as more real because of it level of referentiality, but rather as rooted in a tension between reference and realization. This reorients our understanding of desire–this is not so much that we see characters desiring to transcend their human status, go beyond themselves, etc, but that we see characters desiring to be real…to take on flesh. This is what Gallagher calls the “desire for realism.” Thus Gallagher argues that Eliot the ethical moralist (the ethics of particularity, eg) has been over-emphasized at the expense of certain erotics of realism. She says that Dorothea’s identity-revoltion entail a desire to take on flesh, to become specific and embodied, to lapse from the Saint Teresa typology and become human. Thus Eliot not only shows the ethics of particularity, she makes us want particularity.

Mill on the Floss (1860)

Maggie and Tom, children of Bessy (Dodson) and Tom Tulliver are best friends: Tom is domineering and block-headed while Maggie is free-spirited, intelligent, but submissive to Tom’s wishes. Mr. Tulliver manages his finances poorly, which makes the Dodson sisters angry and judgmental of the Dodson line–they consign Maggie to that branch of the family. Tulliver goes into debt at some point in time (compounded by the fact that he has leant money to his sister Mrs. Moss and does not demand its repayment) and Mr. Wakem takes the Dorlcote Mill. Waken is Philip Wakem’s father, an effete schoolmate of Tom’s who loves Maggie. Maggie promises herself to Philip (a cripple from birth?), despite the fact that Tom will not allow for there to be any connection. Tulliver eventually dies, but not before Tom manages to earn enough money to pay all of his debts. This happens simultaneously. While Tom sets out to buy back the Mill (the dying wish of his father) Maggie goes into town to live with her cousin Lucy, who is being courted by Stephen Guest. Stephen falls in love with Maggie, but Maggie resists him for the sake of both Lucy and Philip (whom she has seen clandestinely many times, up until Tom caught them. However, Stephen manages to get her to go on a boat ride that carries them beyond the point of their intended meeting with Lucy. They stay out all night. Maggie still refuses to marry Stephen, despite the fact that this would effectively clear her name. Stephen goes abroad and Maggie moves in with the town priest, and begins working to rebuild her name. Tom eventually gets the mill back but one evening the flood comes. Maggie leaves her abode (staying with childhood admirer Bill and family) and canoes over to Tom. She saves him from the house, but they are taken under by the debris. Town life continues; nature repairs its wounds. Tom and Maggie are buried together.


Strange narration frame: the impossible anonymous narrator that opens the story does not return to close it.

Flood imagery: throughout water is associated with the dangerous overflow of sentiment: different only in degree from the violent flood that will wipe away the lives of Maggie, Tom, and the novel itself. Connect with discourse of passion and sensibility.

Pastoral: Tom and Maggie’s childhood is Wordsworthian to the hilt. Their transition to adulthood is premised on a move to the urban as well as a consciousness of capital flow and debt. The allegorical connection with England as a whole is unmistakeable.

Characters: As with Silas Marner and Adam Bede, this is a portrait of low people, with the intention of uncovering the tragic in the everyday. Works by apophasis when saying: these stories do not ever get recorded.

Ending: Violent means of solving many oft he tension that Eliot could not otherwise resolve–in particular, the elicit romance between Tom and Maggie. It also is aestheticized (cf. Koven), and thus the death of the characters presages and conditions the move to a mode of representation that can adequately sublimate violence, rather than merely convey or mime it.

Debt: The crucial plot-mover in the novel. Linked with death in that Tulliver can only die when the debt is payed. Link with notion of equilibrium, etc. (Freud, Brooks). It also establishes its own narrative arc that is superseded by the romance that its structure cannot contain. Thus a “normal novel” would end with Tom’s reclamation of the Mill, but this narrative overshoots itself by attempting to pick up the uncontainable energies of Maggie.

Education: Contrast Philip, Tom and Maggie in terms of educational success. A rustic vs. cosmopolitan education, etc.

History: read as an aestheticized historical novel, a eulogy to a time that now exceeds the bounds of representation. How does this history relate to the capacity remember…and how does this relate to the memorializing impulse?



William M. Thackeray – Vanity Fair (1848)

Becky Sharpe (marries Rawdon Crawley) and Amelia Sedley (marries Geroge Osborne and later Major Dobbin) are central characters. Jos Sedley is a gourmand who lives in colonies, a parody of King George, I think. Younger George Osborne and Rawdon Crawly replace Becky and Emmy, but with equalized social positions; Lady Jane (married to Sir Pitt) replaces Becky as the mother.


Form is sloppy, vulgar, corporeal, rambling, unformed  Contrast with Henry Esmond

Authorial (narratorial) interventions: 88 (on insignificance of chapter, content), 109 (on privacy, concealment), 116 (on title), 117 (on characters), 154 (on form, digression), 198 (on cause and effect: determinate effects of narrative; cf. Cynthia Chase and D.A. Miller), 220 (advice for women, e.g.), 293 (non-chronological temporal ordering), 310 (on marriage in novels), 453 (fortune), 493 (funerals: occasion for clustering vanities; cf. Middlemarch funeral), 586 (the “best”) , 650 (dissection of affect), 663 (more advice), 721 (narrator comes out, enters stream of narrative), 792 (the “last page),

Implicating Reader: 572 (allowed to choose at feast), 583 (can’t enter upper echelons of society), 660 (I can see Vanity Fair yawning: ambiguity of “vanity fair” personae), 750 (ambiguous “we”),

Hero/Heroine: 353 (“If this is a novel without a hero, at least let us lay claim to a heroine”), 659 (female martyrdom), 798 (“She has her enemies…Her life is answer to them”)

Proliferating list: 104 (dinner), 589 (satirical dinner party list; cf. Joyce)

Novel dominated by exchange principle. 438-9 (secrets of living on nothing: effects on working class—the base-line currency of exchange principle and exploitation), 467 (deceiving others about means), 715 (Jewish slight, one of many),

Veiling, concealment, knowledge: 100 (active veil thrown over event), 389 (the novelist knows all), 440 (on unknowability of women’s fashion), 583 (can’t enter upper echelons of society: “tremble before those august portals”), 592 (the possibilities generated by veiling: connect to potentiality of debt; cf. Sedgwick and Francois on Open Secrets), 621 (Rawdon exposes Becky’s private papers), 738-40 (truth/falsity of Becky’s story; selective representation), 759 (active veling, “skipping”)

History: 214 (grand events connect to insignificance characters; cf. Gwendolen in Deronda ‘thread’), 420 (war tourism),

Transience: 584 (who doesn’t like roast beast even though it’s transient), 685 (Jos’s eating), 725 (how characters age),

Education: Advantage of Georgy’s education, 720 (Amelia’s vulgar education)