Suzanne Keen, Ph.D

Washington and Lee University,
Department of English,
Lexington,
Virginia, 24450-0303,
USA
 
Telephone: (540) 458-8759
Fax: 540 458-8708
E-Mail : skeen@wlu.edu
 

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VP

1984: BA, Brown University
1990: Ph.D in English from Harvard
1990-1995: Asst. Professor,Yale University
1996-2000: Associate Professor, Washington & Lee Uni.
2001: Professor, Washington and Lee University
 
Major Works:
2003: Narrative Form (Textbook: Palgrave).
2002: Romances of the Archive in Contemporary British Fiction
(University of Toronto Press)
1997: Victorian Renovations of the Novel: Narrative Annexes
and the Boundaries of Representation (Cambridge University Press)
Scholarly sample: See excerpt (below) from
Victorian Renovations of the Novel
 
Suzanne Keen also wrote the Introduction to the New Signet edition of Far From the Madding Crowd
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Excerpt from:

Victorian Renovations of the Novel: Narrative Annexes and the Boundaries of Representation (Cambridge Univ Press, 1998).

Reprinted with the permission of Cambridge University Press.

THIS STUDY of the Victorian novel identifies a technique employed across its various kinds — in social fictions, fictional autobiographies, Bildungsromanen, Condition of England novels, romances and realistic novels — to renovate the nineteenth-century house of fiction. Narrative annexes, as I name them, allow unexpected characters, impermissible subjects, and plot-altering events to appear, in a bounded way, within fictional worlds that might be expected to exclude them. Like other Victorian renovations, narrative annexes may appear to disfigure the structure they alter, but they at the same time reveal Victorian novelists’ creative responses to the capacities and limitations of their form. Annexes are initiated by a combined shift in genre and setting that changes the fictional world of the novel, and they work by interrupting the norms of a story’s world, temporarily replacing those norms, and carrying the reader, the perceiving and reporting characters, and plot line across a boundary and through an altered, particular, and briefly realized zone of difference. In small spaces and few pages, narrative annexes challenge both cultural and literary norms to form imaginative worlds more variously, in sometimes distracting or dissonant interludes. Yet annexes never stop the plot, but serve the story by modifying the story-world. As alternatives to the techniques of fantasy or multiplied plot lines, Victorian annexes simultaneously anticipate the fragmentation associated with modern fiction, and resemble the flexible worldmaking of prose fiction before the novel. Extending and qualifying the boundaries of representation, narrative annexes draw attention and contribute to the generic diversity of the Victorian novel, complicating the traditional opposition of realism and romance. Narrative annexes are sites of Victorian novelists’ negotiation with the conventional, and as such they reveal not only the effort to employ alternative representational strategies, but also the subjects that instigate that effort.

All narrative annexes possess a shift to a previously unrepresented place and a simultaneous alteration in narrative language that sends signals of adjusted genre. All narrative annexes make a change within the primary level of a fictional world without departing it entirely, as an embedded text or an interpolated story does. The connection of the setting and the consistency of the narrative situation permit the perceiving (and, in the case of the first person, narrating) character to journey through the annex, by crossing a boundary line or border region, marked with signs of generic and spatial difference.

A constitutive feature of annexes, these boundaries or border regions indicate the commitment of Victorian novelists to the representation of spatially coherent fictional worlds, and at the same time allude to the contemporary critical discourse on the proper "realm" of the novel. When at the end of the century in "The Death of the Lion" (1894), Henry James’ characters refer to the new practice of representing in fiction all-too-recently forbidden subjects as "the permissibility of the larger latitude," the journalists and literary lion self-consciously retail a cliché of the book reviewers. If by the 1890s the "larger latitude" had been opened up for exploration by naturalist novelists who took readers into regions previously unrepresented, and by sensationalist writers who dared, if not actual frankness, forays into the risqué, the new permissibility suggested an older set of prohibitions, copiously attested to in sixty years of book reviews. The "larger latitude" replaces a "narrower sphere." Metaphors of place, zone, realm, and boundary-line proved indispensable to the Victorian reviewers who attempted to define and redefine the role of the novel. The novelists responsible for both continuing and challenging the traditions of representation in fiction shared with the critics a moral vocabulary that expressed possibilities and impossibilities in geographical terms ("latitude"; "over the line"), but they also had close at hand a rich array of literary models for the radical alteration of fictional worlds. For from Shakespeare’s drama, The Faerie Queene, Don Quixote, and romantic poetry, among other sources, Victorian novelists inherited an image of boundary-crossing — into the green world, into the houses of Pride or Holiness, into the cave of Montesinos, into the underworld, through spots of time. Critics’ protests against the episodic and the improbable notwithstanding, the place- and genre- shifting strategy I describe in this book as "narrative annexing" belonged in the tool-box of techniques Victorian novelists inherited from earlier narrative artists. Since boundaries, borders, and lines of demarcation evoke not only the long tradition of traversing an ever-altering imaginary terrain, but also the censorious language of the Victorian cultural watchdog, or the formal purist (often but not always the same person), they become a vital element of novelists’ manipulation of spatial difference and dramatic generic admixture to challenge representational norms.

For instance, Thomas Hardy simultaneously alters the generic signals and the location of The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886) when he conveys Michael Henchard through a border-region that becomes a forbidding barrier around the abode of the weather prophet: "The turnpike became a lane, the lane a cart-track, the cart-track a bridle-path, the bridle-path a foot-way, the foot-way overgrown. The solitary walker slipped here and there, and stumbled over the natural springes formed by the brambles, till at length he reached the house, which, with its garden, was surrounded with a high, dense hedge." This hedge marks the boundary between the ordinary world of Casterbridge and the weather-prophet’s house, but the incantatory language and the difficult journey have already combined to suggest an annex, an alternative realm outside Casterbridge where magical forecasts rather than up-to-date technology and practical knowledge might work.