Partial Cues and the Promise of More in Nineteenth-Century Realism

Auyoung, Elaine.   Harvard University ProQuest Dissertations Publishing,  2011. 3462430.

Abstract (summary)

This dissertation on the novels of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, and Leo Tolstoy reveals the surprisingly economical way in which realistic writers prompt readers to feel as if fictional persons, scenes, and worlds possess extension beyond the printed page. Psychologists from the nineteenth-century to the present show that taking a few cues to imply something more is a vital strategy for contending with everyday perceptual limits. A reader's cognitive readiness to suppose something more in turn permits novelists to suggest fictional objects by means of just a few verbal cues. The words "pouting red mouth" can be sufficient to imply a face even though the rest of that face is left unrepresented. This phenomenon underscores the centrality of reference to the engagement with mimetic representation. It also shows that to be a novel reader is to contend with a limited set of referential cues that always remain arrested at the stage of suggestion. To explore the phenomenological implications of this sustained experience in ways that philosophers and psychologists do not, I turn to realistic novels themselves.

Because nineteenth-century writers were especially concerned with the problem of perceptual limits, their work offers unusually intricate accounts of the response to partial cues. By juxtaposing Austen with Dickens and Eliot with Hardy, I bring out the epistemic and affective tensions that arise from standing at the threshold to something more. Austen's heroines demonstrate an irrepressible impulse to infer as much as possible from minimal evidence, while her own celebrated economy of representation relies heavily on the reader's aliveness to implication. By contrast, Dickens highlights the difficulty of overcoming barriers to knowledge, underscoring the reader's delimited, secondhand relation to his fictional worlds. Eliot shows how not having full knowledge can promote belief in unbounded possibility, suggesting that the limits of verbal representation paradoxically endow fictional worlds with greater promise by leaving them underdetermined. Hardy, however, dwells on the frustration of finding that implied objects continue to remain absent and out of reach, which sheds light on a novel reader's own inability to move beyond the state of recognizing something more.

Indexing (details)

Modern literature;
Slavic literature;
British and Irish literature;
British & Irish literature
0298: Modern literature
0314: Slavic literature
0593: British and Irish literature
Identifier / keyword
Language, literature and linguistics; Metonymy; Perception; Psychology; Reading; Realism
Partial Cues and the Promise of More in Nineteenth-Century Realism
Auyoung, Elaine
Number of pages
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 72/09, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
Scarry, Elaine; Fisher, Philip; Price, Leah
Harvard University
University location
United States -- Massachusetts
Source type
Dissertation or Thesis
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL