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Title: Inkblot Mirrors: On the Metareferential Mode and 19th Century British Literature
Authors: Crandell, Caitlin Elise
Advisors: Nord, Deborah E
Contributors: English Department
Keywords: 19th century British literature
Victorian literature
Subjects: English literature
Issue Date: 2021
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: “Inkblot Mirrors: on the Metareferential Mode and 19th Century British Literature,” argues that we have been reading metatextuality the wrong way. Critics interested in the self-referentiality of texts have turned almost exclusively to particular historical periods and genres in order to substantiate their claims. Scholars of so-called ‘narcissistic narratives,’ ‘self-conscious novels,’ or metafictions gravitate towards early novelists (from Quixote to Sterne) and postmodernist fiction writers (Nabokov, Calvino, Perec), but overlook much else. Dispensing with these strictures, “Inkblot Mirrors” captures and more holistically describes the diverse phenomenon that I define as the metareferential mode by cutting across the expectations typically held of periods and genres in order to capture the continuities that have been lost in their division from one another. Eschewing such isolating boundaries, this modal approach to metareferentiality encompasses the gamut of outer form and inner content, genre and ethos, in order to account for the diverse texts that highlight their own textuality, materiality, and made-ness. Furthermore, the metareferential mode offers a new way of thinking about literary theory, specifically the smaller and less ostentatious moments of literary-philosophical reflection that crop up in the texts themselves rather than in paratexts or critical commentaries. This project takes as its case study a motley crew of 19th-century British texts to demonstrate the pervasiveness and theoretical richness of the metareferential mode: Scott replaces his typical historical sources with fabricated counterfactual events in order to demonstrate limitations of a strict opposition between fiction and history that undergirds the genre; Carlyle transforms the bildungsroman from plot structure into a more pervasive linguistic quality that enacts the development of the reader through a purposefully difficult battle towards comprehension; Browning ventriloquizes nine speakers and also himself, creating an alternative definition of the dramatic monologue that expands what it is to be an artist; Eliot abandons her usual omniscient narrator in her final work and offers Theophrastus Such as a kind of rebuttal against the supposed superiority and objectivity of the realist mode. Decentering critical practices, “Inkblot Mirrors” offers a new rubric for examining the metareferential qualities of any text within the 19th century and beyond.
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Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:English

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