The Split Subject of Narration in Elizabeth Gaskell's First Person Fiction
By (author) Anna Koustinoudi
Publication date:08 December 2011
Length of book:178 pages
The Split Subject of Narration in Elizabeth Gaskell’s First-Person Fiction analyzes a number of Elizabeth Gaskell's first-person works through a post-modern perspective employing such theoretical frameworks as psychoanalytic theory, narratology, and gender theory. It attempts to explore the problematics of Victorian subjectivity, bringing into focus the ways in which both her realistic and Gothic texts undercut and interrogate post-Romantic assumptions about an autonomous and coherent speaking and/or narrating subject. The essential argument of the book is that the mid-nineteenth-century narrating “I”, in its communal, voyeuristic, and Gothic manifestations emerges as painfully divided, lacking, unstable, ailing, and hence unreliable, pre-figuring, at the same time, later forms of self-conscious narration in fiction. Furthermore, it is also exposed as performative, one that can be seen as a simulacrum without an original, and, consequently, at odds with post-Romantic, empiricist assumptions about the factuality, centrality, and rationality of the human subject, while at the same time, clinging to illusions of autonomy. Plagued by its own self-awareness, the narrating “I” is alienated both from itself as well as from those it attempts to represent, including its own narrated counterpart. To this effect, it argues that throughout a trajectory of configurations, psychic investments and imaginary identifications, embedded in and conditioned by the workings of desire and ideology, both of which underpin discursive and representational practices, narrative subjectivity in Gaskell’s first-person fiction manifests itself as the product of a misrecognized encounter between the subject who narrates and that which is being narrated. Both are essentially unable to see their split character and the alienating chasm opened up between them, for the former, on the level of narration, and, for the latter, on a thematic level.
"Elizabeth Gaskell and Jacques Lacan are brought together here in a sophisticated and original exploration of the psychoanalytic implications of Gaskell's narrative strategies. Through a close reading of Gaskell's first-person fiction, Koustinoudi throws light on the gaps and dislocations that lurk within these deceptively simple narratives, revealing Gaskell to have had as much in common with her modernist successors as with her Victorian contemporaries. Indispensable for students of Gaskell, this book also makes a significant contribution to the field of psychoanalytic literary criticism." — Ruth Parkin-Gounelas, professor of English literature and culture, Aristotle University, Greece.
"Dr. Koustinoudi presents an insightful post-structural analysis of a selection of Elizabeth Gaskell’s first-person fiction (Cranford, Cousin Phillis, the 'German' short stories 'Six Weeks at Heppenheim' and 'The Grey Woman' and the Gothic tale, 'The Poor Clare'), methodically exploring the narrative subjectivity of these five works. By elucidating Gaskell’s balanced handling of the tension between the I and the eye of these prose tales, Koustinoudi presents a strongly theoretical gaze that points the reader to achieving an understanding and appreciation of Gaskell’s Victorian reality. She applies the work of Lacan to her reading of Gaskell, noting that just as Lacan informs that reading, Gaskell’s writing is informed by her challenge of Descartes’s 'notions of the self’s wholeness and centrality' through her plots, her characters and (especially) her narrators." —Nancy S. Weyant, Gaskell Bibliographer and associate professor emeritus, Bloomsburg University