Daily Archives: November 8, 2008

Robyn Warhol-Down: “Not Quite Not-There: Dickens’s Narrative Refusals” (11/18)

Robyn Warhol-Down, University of Vermont. 
311 Denney Hall, 164 W. 17th Ave. 
Tuesday, Nov 18, 3:30 PM
Looking at what I call “narrative refusals” gives us a glimpse at a previously unrecognized facet of the complexities that form Dickens’s style, allowing us to see differently what is there by turning our attention to what is marked as explicitly not-there. The paper outlines the pervasive uses of unnarration (when a narrator says he or she will not tell something) and disnarration (when a narrator tells something that did not happen in place of telling what did) in such Dickens novels as Great ExpectationsOur Mutual Friend, andDombey and Son, then turns to an earlier work, Nicholas Nickleby, where narrative refusals are already incipient, though more rare than in middle and later Dickens. When narrative refusal is present in Dickens, the figure takes one of at least three different forms: negation of action or situation (“it was not. . . not. . . not”), misattribution of characters’ feelings and agency to a fictitious “Nobody” (as in Little Dorrit) and subjunctive narration detailing what might have happened, but does not. I will concentrate in this paper on negated and subjunctive disnarration of “what might have been” but “is not what is,” to quote what R. Wilfer says about the counterfactual in Our Mutual Friend.     

Negative and subjunctive narrative refusals work in Dickens to create a shadow world repressed, as it were, from the main narrative, as well as to enhance the effect of character depth. At their most interesting, they outline a narrative unconscious for each of Dickens’s texts, more painstakingly worked out than the representation of the psychology of any of the characters. It is not a collective unconscious, but rather a collection of specific possibilities and details the text presents in order to leave out, while not altogether forgetting, what I call the “shadow narrative.” When the shadow narrative emerges through narrative refusals, the “repressed” of the text returns, not quite not-there.

Nicholas Dames: “The Chapter: or, A History of Segmented Life” (11/13)

As part of the 19th Century Graduate Workshop, Nicholas Dames will be giving a public talk on Thursday, November 13 at 3:30 on “The Chapter: or A History of Segmented Life.”

In his talk, Dames will analyze the evolution of the “chapter” to show how it became a fundamental aesthetic and ideological aspect of Victorian novels.

Even if you’re not officially enrolled in the workshop, you are very welcome to attend Dames’ seminar on Friday, November 14 at 9:30am. The seminar will be on “Protocols of Victorian Criticism.” In it, Dames will lead a discussion of Victorians’ methods of critiquing novels and how those methods might help us to understand our own critical modes, including “close reading” and political or historical criticism.

Below is a list of readings.

Both events will be in 311 Denney.

Nicholas Dames is Theodore Kahan Professor in the Humanities and Associate
Chair of the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia

Readings for “Protocols of Victorian Criticism”:

Margaret Oliphant, “Sensation Novels,” Blackwood’s 91 (May 1862): 564-85.

G. H. Lewes, “Criticism in Relation to Novels.” Fortnightly Review 3 (Dec. 15, 1865): 352-61.

—. “Currer Bell’s Shirley,” Edinburgh Review 91 (January 1850): 153-73.

Whitwell Elwin, “The Newcomes.” Quarterly Review 97 (September 1855): 350-78.

Thomas Cleghorn, “Writings of Charles Dickens,” North British Review 3 (May 1845): 65-87.

[Geraldine Jewsbury], “New Novels,” Athenaeum 1635 (February 26 1859): 284.

[E. S. Dallas], “Great Expectations,” The Times (October 17, 1861): 6.