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Hearing Voices: The Reader Encounters Genre in the Nineteenth Century

By Eleanor Reeds


This study uses an archive of generically innovative and indeterminate texts in order to theorize the reader’s experience of voice across the nineteenth century. In defining “voice,” I consider the recent resurgence of interest in lyric theory as scholars have ignited debates in the field. Placing these theorists in conversation with somewhat earlier works of narrative theory, I establish two crucial intersections between these otherwise divergent theories on the nature of voice: its construction through a relationship between a voice and its listener or reader, and its tentative relationship to personhood as voices imply mouths, faces, and ultimately bodies. However, I retain the crucial distinction between the temporal experiences offered by lyric and narrative texts in order to explore this tension in the hybrid works I analyze. First, I focus on the relationship through which voice comes into being, exploring the more or less fictionalized poetic autobiographies offered in blank verse by William Wordsworth and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. I argue that The Preludeand Aurora Leigheach construct a distinctive poetic voice through revealing its sources in the voices of others and of the poet’s earlier selves. Next, I examine how readers experience voices as emanating from both imagined bodies and actual texts by examining two authors who undertook to disperse lengthy narratives across many distinct voices: Wilkie Collins and Robert Browning. The Woman in White and The Ring and the Bookshare striking thematic and structural similarities, yet tackle the problem of providing evidence through different voices using divergent organizational strategies. Finally, the coda argues for voice’s ability to manipulate and comment upon genre, revealing how voice exceeds even genre’s determining role in a text

Publisher: OpenCommons@UConn
Year: 2018
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