Publication details [#5106]

Gindele, Karen C. 1992. Means to an end: Narrative middles in the Victorian novel. Providence R.I.. 430 pp.


This dissertation theorizes the middle in Victorian fiction from two feminist perspectives. The first is resistance to end-determined readings of the text because symbolic endings are limited to marriage and death. Tha author argues that we should take the ending for granted and that it does not "contain" female sexual desire or the relative social freedom proposed in the middle. The second perspective is the coding of the female body in narrative itself, whereby the middle figures both feminine difference from masculine endpoints, at which patriarchal authority is asserted, and a space in which difference itself is relaxed and contradictory positions in gender and class coexist. The author theorizes the figures of synecdoche, metaphor, and metonymy as they engender narrative and construct characters. She considers irony at points throughout. In Part I, critiques of Peter Brooks, Freud, and Barthes show how the alternation of the pleasure and death drives in narrative encodes the female body as both their "end" and the means to plural being and disintegration. The author addresses two feminist appropriations of these theories. Julia Kristeva assigns patriarchal coherence to scientific language and a maternal decentering of the subject to poetic language, a classification with which the author argues. Naomi Schor theorizes the detail as potentially feminine, signifying the ornamental, excessive, and proliferating, aligning femininity with the threatening social group. Part II analyzes Bronte's 'Villette' and Dickens's 'Little Dorrit' in relation to a paradigm that posits the middle as the space of feminine multiplicity. The author reads an organizing opposition in the representation of female sexuality based on the "language of flowers" and the dark enclosure that reflects the larger crises of opposition between nature and culture, the essential and the linguistic subject. Part III theorizes metaphor and metonymy as sites of ideological investment. The author argues that metonymy is a feminist figure. Louis Althusser's theory of ideology and Luce Irigaray's theory of female subjectivity enable her to examine the metaphor of the "medium" in Middlemarch, by which Eliot dismantles patriarchal myths of enclosure as feminine and shows the operations of consciousness to be largely metonymic. The author proposes the mutual influence of Dorothea's and Lydgate's narratives as metonymic; she also shows how characters transpose means and "ends." In the concluding chapter the author speculates as to how the realist novel, closed in form, opens its subjects. (Dissertation Abstracts)