"Charlotte Brontë's First Person." Narrative 25.2 (2017): 203-226.
ABSTRACT: This essay reads Charlotte Brontë’s use of first-person narration in Villette as a contribution to a Victorian reassessment of personal identity as material, heterogeneous, and adaptive. Challenging common readings of Brontë’s first-person fictions as displays of self-definition and authority, I unpack the relationship between the narrated and narrating person in both Jane Eyre and Villette to reveal dual operations of narrative—world-making strategies and adaptive tactics—that express competing notions of personhood. By comparing Villette (1853) to Jane Eyre (1847), we can chart a shift from a strategic to a tactical emphasis in narration indicative, I argue, of a broader movement in nineteenth-century thought from Cartesian dualism toward associationist and materialist theories of consciousness as adaptive and processual. Villette’s narrative tactics demonstrate the potential in novel form to enact processes of being in the world that challenge both traditional concepts of a unified, self-contained consciousness and new Victorian scientific conceptions of a material mind only knowable from science’s “objective” perspective. Positioning Brontë’s novel form alongside psychological debates about the nature and study of mind, I show how the novel offers alternative methodologies and conclusions about the nature of personhood to those proffered by an emerging Victorian psychology. When Brontë’s first-person narrative produces (rather than assumes the prior presence of) a “person” narrating, it asks us to read that production of identity and consciousness as an experiment with what it means to experience oneself as, in the words of Jane Eyre, a “heterogeneous thing.”
"Our Mutual Friend and Network Form." Novel: A Forum on Fiction 48.1 (2015): 63-84.
ABSTRACT: This essay demonstrates how Charles Dickens used the form of serial fiction to experiment with a uniquely Victorian idea of life as a dynamic network of interactions. Reading Our Mutual Friend alongside nineteenth-century physiological and evolutionary writing, I show how Dickens shaped novel form around the attractions and reactions that organized social and psychological life in his city. Victorian sciences—particularly the work of George Henry Lewes and Charles Darwin—were turning to “net-work” to describe the plastic processes underpinning biological life. Dickens's fiction used the same dynamic potential of network form to put in motion the mechanisms of social life. Taking a novel form traditionally organized around the story of a self, Dickens used serial publication to incorporate variety, change, and new combinations of radically heterogeneous characters into each new installment, turning novel form into an ongoing formation. The resulting model of character psychology is one that replaces interiority with interaction and individuated desire with physiological affect.