hey, you’ve got a little class struggle in your scrapbook

June 29, 2014 § Leave a comment

One of my favorite characters in victorian lit. is Jenny Wren, the sharp-witted, little crippled child?woman?dwarf?–nobody knows for sure–in Our Mutual Friend. Just as her character is marginal to the main plot, her profession as doll dressmaker is also marginal to the emerging economic system of financial speculation in the novel. Like a typical victorian dedicated to resourcefulness, Jenny makes dresses for dolls out of recycled and leftover scraps of fabric, wood, cardboard. Her crippled body is marked by the drudgery her profession demands to make ends meet–“I can’t get up because my back’s bad and my legs are queer,” she says over and over again; yet, her hands, described as nimble and dexterous (no doubt an inherited skill from incessant doll dressmaking), are also portals into her brilliant imagination. Between her poignant finger thrusts and clenched fists jabbing the air around her, she uses her hands to express anger, joy, sarcasm, nostalgia, suspicion. Her hands, though, are not the only hands that are central to their profession in the novel. There’s also Mr. Venus, the eccentric taxidermist, who uses his hands to stuff, sort, catalog, and piece together fragments of bones and small animals.

Through their artisan presence in the novel, their working class vocations signify a clash with modern economic institutions predicated on joint stock companies and limited-liability banking (embodied especially by the Veneerings, the Lammles, the Podsnaps), a hegemonic capitalist system that Jenny and Venus are excluded from.  Thanks to constant descriptions of their hands the reader is led to always be aware of their artisan identities, yet nowhere in the novel do we see Jenny or Venus actually selling and profiting from the products they work so hard to create.

It is this obvious class fraction in the novel that guided me to Talia Schaffer’s Novel Craft: Victorian Domestic Handicraft and Nineteenth-Century Fiction. Let me just say that this book is *such* a gem. Schaffer, a professor at Queens College, has a writing style that is effortless and flows beautifully and it is this style that helps make the subject of her book (a topic that could easily slide into feelings like yawwwwn, boring!) fascinating! Her study tracks the rise and fall of handicraft culture, what this rise and fall meant, what handicraft culture signified at its peek, and what it came to signify after it flamed out within the span of Britain’s nineteenth century. She defines handicraft as being “everything homemade, whether for decorative or sentimental or pragmatic use.” Yes, this includes (anachronistically) anything relating to “arts and crafts”; but it also includes the making of clothing, carpentry, and botanical and zoological collections (15). Driving the existence of this handicraft culture is something she calls the craft paradigm, a set of values grounded in gender representation, production and consumption, (monetary) value, sentimentality, and beauty (4). Many of these values were contradictory, though. For example, on the one hand the craft paradigm critiqued consumer capitalism by emulating more personal, sentimentalized, and older trading practices; on the other hand it embraced the system by taking part in its mass produced artifacts. It thrived in the protean climate of industrialization in the 1840’s, yet it always carried a nostalgia for “older ideas of industry, trade, and artifact” (10).  At the same time that it inculcated domestic management proficiency in middle class women, it also portrayed itself to be part of the “aristocratic tradition of wealthy leisured ladies” (10). These contradictory ideals are generally the ones that manifest in Victorian literature and authors tended to represent the craft paradigm in this way to spotlight anxieties involving the economy and class.

What I am interested in is the craft paradigm of the 1860’s (because OMF was published in 1865), which Schaffer identifies as the decline of handicraft. If, as Schaffer asserts, handicraft was “synchronized” with the economy, aestheticism, and social conventions of the 1840’s, then after 1860 handicraft culture was dated, and therefore demonstrated tension between its older economic values of personal, concrete transactions with the new consumer capitalism of financial abstraction and mass production. Drawing on Mary Poovey’s (love her!) work on Britain’s financial speculation craze of the 1860’s, Schaffer writes that because the modern economy functioned on paper notes (bills, checks, bank notes) that represented value rather than embodied it, consumers were already trained to “believe in a  value they could not see” (20). This paved the way for the financial speculation boom, which relied on even more abstract forms of monetary circulation represented by joint stock companies, credit markets, etc. Amidst this emerging economy predicated on abstraction, handicraft culture (especially in fiction) came to signify a “solid, verifiable, present value” (20) that “expressed mistrust of the new system” (10).

Goshdangit. It is so hard to summarize a complex argument. I’ve left out a lot of what Schaffer lays out in her wonderfully written intro, but I’ve said enough to contextualize a few relevant scenes in OMF that come to mind.

So Jenny Wren. Doll Dressmaker. I think it’s safe to say that her character embodies the declining handicraft culture of the 1860’s since not only is her business doing poorly despite working day and night (OMF 223), but being a dressmaker for dolls gives off a parodic feel, especially considering how she herself is portrayed as a doll: she’s really pretty, possessing piercing eyes, an elfin chin, and beautiful blonde hair. A doll making dresses for other dolls–one could argue that Jenny lives in an imaginary sphere, wholly separate from the real world of “real” business. She takes herself veryyyy seriously though, handing out business cards and literally creeping and crawling around bourgeois socials to glimpse the latest fashions in dresses in order to keep her products (futilely) up to date. It all comes off as funny and trivial, especially when juxtaposed with Mr. Podsnap’s foreign business endeavors and the Veneerings’ investments in the stock exchange.  Furthermore, the hands that make these tiny dresses become so animated when describing the imaginary birds she hears and the flowers she smells as she works (OMF 238), and thus, one could argue, place her deeper into a dream-like, almost pastoral past, a past that has no place in the urban modernity of the London city (hearkens back to the problematic relationship the past and present have in urban modernity as it is backdropped against violent, progressive capitalism via Mckee’s Reading Constellation).

Aside from her doll-like qualities, another one of Jenny’s defining traits is her suspicion towards male presence (except for Mr.Sloppy who makes cabinets, cough cough handicraft!), shown in her signature gesture of shaking her fist in the air and shouting, “I know your tricks and manners!” She says this to Eugene and Bradley numerous times, two men who represent the emerging economic system by their social status and ability to ascend the social ladder.  I’ll argue that her suspicion of  hegemonic (upper class) patriarchy symbolizes handicraft culture’s “mistrust” of the emerging capitalist enterprise (which, of course, is inherently hegemonic patriarchy). If you’re still not convinced, I have one more piece of evidence. There’s a scene in the novel when Bradley visits Lizzie and the whole time Jenny is looking at Bradley through her binocular shaped hands, held over her face. She says something along the lines of “I’m watching you” and “a-ha! Caught you looking”–if this, along with her binocular hands doesn’t connote suspicion, then I don’t know what does. I am going to argue that this is a politically symbolic gesture (via Jameson), as it symbolically illustrates handicraft culture’s distrust (and belligerent attitude?) in industrial and consumer capitalism.

Obviously that mini analysis needs some major refining; I need to go back to the primary text. I also want to look more closely at Mr. Venus, who gets rejected by his romantic interest at the beginning of the novel because of his hand-picking profession, and she refuses to “see herself in that boney light”.  I want to discuss how Mrs. Boffin and Bella seem to revert to their knitting when Mr. Boffin embarks on his miserly pursuits, as if knitting (handicraft), will help repress the selfishness and hostility this new economic system easily engenders. I also want to look more closely into Betty’s character, who knits for a living and dies in front of a paper mill factory.

More later.

“and when I die, turn him into stars and form a constellation in his image”: stargazing into the diffusions of history

June 25, 2014 § Leave a comment

It is becoming more and more apparent to me that I gravitate towards materialist historicism, which is, of course, Marxism. Today’s reading, Reading Constellations by Patricia Mckee, follows the logic of Jameson’s Political Unconscious: rejecting linear conceptions of history in which one event leads to the next (causality), Mckee uses a beautiful constellation metaphor (credited to the German philosopher Walter Benjamin) to refigure our marshalling of history, a history that is sprawled out like a constellation, where events “are related in their differences [and] appear simultaneously yet remain in their particular places” (2). In this way, we avoid reducing events to “transitions” into other events (progressive, linear history) and instead realize how all events can possibly relate, converge, and intersect at different times simultaneously. Like capitalism, linear history is obsessed and indebted to the myth of progress, resulting in lost, undocumented, and silenced moments in history–the accumulated “debris of history” that has been left behind (our political unconsciousness of the past, I’d say) as progress has moved forward (3).  Instead of this oedipal-esque killing of the past for the sake of progress, we must acknowledge how the past infiltrates into the present.

[Side note: (I THINK) someone who is unaware of these revisionist takes on history as described above, delineated and explained by modern theorists alike today, will find it difficult to see the relevance of this problem to everyday, real life. I just got off the phone with my mom and as I tried to explain my reading for today, I found myself struggling to explain why linear history is problematic and why Mckee’s idea of history as constellations gets us closer to a more accurate portrayal of history. As I heard myself explaining to her, I felt like I sounded, well, a little loony and I could tell that she plainly didn’t understand. Anyway, maybe reading this to her would have helped:

“A progressive history…requires that events be added to or cut down in order to appear continuous with one another and developmental…This assimilation allows an ease of exchange as it produces equivalences, but it accumulates, too, what Benjamin sees as the wreckage of history as it leaves behind a residue of persons, things, events” (12-3).

Now back to what I was saying before.]

But not only concerned with this temporality, Mckee also extends the idea of constellations to spatiality, which destabilize our conceptions of space and place. Using Benjamin’s concept of “the colportage phenomenon of space,” she writes that along with the constellations of history, “events…[happen] in a place at different times converging, to make the space simultaneously present and past, interior and exterior” (4). This facilitates our understanding of multifarious pasts and places that make up a “discontinuous historical identity” (4). By disrupting containment and continuity, similar to Orpheus looking back to his beloved Eurydice, we must “move forward with awareness always moving backward and bringing the diverse pieces of time and space into collective possibility” (31).

All set within the context of urban modernity, the three novels and one short story she analyzes through these lens–Great Expectations, Our Mutual Friend, Jude the Obscure, and “In the Cage”–all lend themselves to, Mckee argues, interpenetrations of past and present, interior and exterior. Objects, people, places in these works function as mediums “through which to recall other times and spaces,” times and spaces that have been left behind in the dust by progressive history (6).

A particular scene in OMF came to mind as I read Mckee’s intro. John Harmon, protagonist of the novel, enters the plot with minimal explanation of his past. That his father left him a large sum of money in his will on the provision that Harmon would marry a specific girl (Bella) and that he comes “from abroad” to collect the money once his father dies, is all that is revealed to the reader. What his occupation was prior to his arrival in London is never explicitly addressed. But when Harmon visits Pleasant Riderhood disguised, she, “having an eye for sailors,” almost immediately notices his hands: they were sunburned and had the “unmistakeable looseness and suppleness…his hands were the hands of a sailor” (Dickens 347). Was Harmon a sailor “abroad” before his arrival in London? Maybe… If Pleasant is right, which more than likely she is–elsewhere the narrator describes Harmon’s hands as possessing a “seafaring hold”–then Harmon’s hands offer a glimpse into his sailor past left behind in an effort to rewrite his identity into the middle class and completely separate himself from the likes of Rogue Riderhood and Gaffer Hexam. His encounter with Pleasant, then, is a moment where his past interpenetrates the present, where the past emerges, interrupts, and threatens the (capitalist) progress of Britain’s bourgeoisie.

Essentially, Mckee’s main objective here is to reconceptualize the way we experience….well, experience. Visualizing time and space as constellations allows us to rethink the modes, concepts, and the ways we express, recognize, and understand our experiences. Another important component to experience is the individual self, and Mckee seeks to disrupt that experience too. Rather than realizing our own identity through an “integration of the self,” Mckee argues that we realize our identity, or parts of ourselves, through the identity and parts of others, a nice echoing of Tennyson’s Ulysses (“I am a part of all that I have met”).

And to give another half thought out example, there is Twemlow. Up until the last chapter of OMF, he spends most of his time in a state of utter perplexity, insecurity, and suspicion, indicated by his hand perennially on his forehead. “The abyss to which he could find no bottom, and from which started forth the engrossing and ever-swelling difficulty of his life, was the insoluble question whether he was Veneering’s oldest friend or newest friend” (Dickens 18). Amidst the superficial, veneered society of the Veneerings, Twemlow cannot figure out where he stands; better yet, he has no sense of his own identity. At the end of the novel, though, in a symbolically laden gesture, he removes his hand from his forehead (finally!), and responds, unrestrained by the container that is his hand, to Lady Tippins’s and Podsnap’s diatribes against the intermixing of lower and upper classes in marriage, and becomes the “Voice of Society”. Through the bourgeois identities of Lady Tippins and Podsnap, Twemlow is able to realize his individualized self. Their disapproval of Eugene (a gentleman) and Lizzie (factory worker and daughter of a sailor) marrying act as a trigger for Twemlow, waking him up from the “dreamscape of capitalist culture” (Mckee 31). The novel ends with Mortimor and Twemlow shaking hands, signaling the satisfaction Twemlow has found in realizing his own identity through the identity of others (as Mckee phrases it: “horizontal extensions of self rather than an internal integration of self”[31]).

ohmuhgosh. I could say so much more regarding Mckee’s introduction but I’ll stop for now. I’ll come back to what I have to say as I post about my readings of her interpretations of Great Expectations and Our Mutual Friend.



“I hate these blurred lines”: creatures of custom or autonomous agents?

June 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

Rothenberg, Molly A. “Articulating Social Agency in Our Mutual Friend: Problems with Performances, Practices, and Political Efficacy”. Project Muse 71.3 (2004). 719-49.  Web.

Oh my gosh, this article was a pain in the butt. If there is one thing that irks me about literary criticism is its easy slippage into exhaustive esoteric jargon. Although I do understand that the bulk of literary criticism is geared towards a specialized group in academia, not a mass audience, it drives me craycray when a critic skims–or worse, doesn’t even mention–a field of knowledge needed in order to grasp the argument or concepts stemming from it. Granted, yes, if this happens it is more than likely due to length constraints for journal articles, or the background needing further explanation has already been discussed over and over by prior critics so the blame, I guesssssss, falls on the reader. Me! This article would have been easier to grasp had I prior knowledge of Judith Butler’s gender performative theory and Michel de Certeau’s theory on non individualized political agency. As I write this post, I am still trying to figure out how exactly to make sense of this article.

Rothenberg zeros in on the ramifications of agency in Our Mutual Friend, positing that Dickens explores the complexities of distinguishing and ultimately separating individual motivation–acts of self-will, unencumbered by social influence–and the social conditioning of motivation–acts under the expectation of receiving and following “culturally sanctioned incentives and established institutional procedures” (720). Dickens’s web-like indexing of agency in the novel, Rothenberg argues, settles agency as nonbinarized, leaving the difference between autonomy and heteronomy fluid, blurring into one another and therefore making it impossible to recognize each separately.

Okay. I’m not lost yet. But then there’s a second, more mind-boggling level to her argument: “Not only are social determinants inculcated into individual psyches, making it impossible to distinguish idiosyncratic motivation from socially directed activity, but the inmixing of individual intentions with social determinants is further complicated by the ways that the purposes and actions of one person come in conflict with those of others” (my emphasis, 721). A process arguably wrought with contingency, agency is shaped by the agent(s), the one doing the enacting (called perfomances), and the receiver(s) or audience, the one experiencing, or better yet DECIDING, the effects of these performances. It is the receiver, not the performer, “that decides whether or not, and how, to apply a given convention in a given context” (726) meaning that it is the audience that essentially decides how one’s performance will be interpreted. In turn, this gives one’s agency meaning  (conferred onto one’s performance BY the receiver/audience, remember). Therefore, the performer starts off with “meaningless” agency, or no agency.

These are the barebones of Rothenberg’s argument. Moving forward, she sets out to critique Butler’s premise of nonintentionalism in her theory of performative agency by exposing a contradiction. Purportedly with the same “there is no performer prior to the performed” mentality (727), Butler stages performative agency in three steps: 1) before the initial act, the agent visualizes their anticipated act as carrying a stabilizing force (called normative effective) that will guarantee the performance’s intended result; 2) then, because of the myriad twists the agent can inject into a “normal” action (I offer a helpful paradox: an idiosyncratic norm), as the agent performs, she ends up appropriating her performance “to new purposes within a new context” (728); 3) thus by displacing the norm just a bit, the agent “install[s] a new normative force constraining interpretation” (728). So the contradiction being…? Ehmm, contrary to Butler’s assertion that the audience controls the meaning of a performance, these three steps imply the performer’s ability to dictate meaning to the audience. Rothenberg claims the latter is impossible since the performer’s ability to tweak a norm to their own liking stems from their inability to control their audience’s interpretation (728). And so again, the reception of a performance has nothing to do with the intentions of the performer. Yet, the audience assumes its interpretation matches the intentions of the performer and vise versa, resulting in a tacit, narcissist collaboration: “performer and audience dissolve into mirror images” (729).

Side note: This communicative matching though, resulting in the mirror imaging of performer and audience, doesn’t always happen. Just think about a typical argument two people have in any kind of relationship. Person one says something (performative utterance) with the intention of producing an intended result from person two (audience); person two gets super offended and flips out (for example) because he/she automatically assumes and projects his/her own interpretation, an interpretation that unfortunately does not match up to what person one meant by his/her own meaning–so intentionality goes to shit.

This also reminded of (and this is a moment when structuralism seems so eerie to me; you realize that the same patterns of ideas show up over and over again)  Roland Barthes’s “death of the author” theory. That when an author releases his or her work to the public…he undergoes a symbolic death. Whatever intentions the author had in creating his work do not and will not matter as long as there is a public’s interpretation to account for. That the author’s intentions are nullified is also due to the vicissitudes of language. I offer a half-assed, succinct example: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. After Edward Said came out with Culture and Imperialism in 1993 where he offered a revolutionizing interpretation of MP through the lens of postcolonialism, readers found it really hard to ignore the slavery implications, heretofore uninterpreted in that contextual vein. Did Austen intend for her novel to be received in this way back in 1814? Were critics interpreting the novel this way before Said came along? Nope and nope, but now a postcolonial interpretation or at least an awareness of it seems unavoidable. Things change. Woah, what a digression. Back to Rothenberg.

Another part of performative theory specifically looks at bodily practices (like hand gestures?!) stripped of intentionality, and emphasizes “that these habitual actions are embodiments of an external field of social forces, installed at the subconscious level by patterns of daily life” (730)–sounds like Jameson’s political unconscious. Just like Jameson seeks to dismantle distinctions between public/private, social/psychological, political/poetic, individual/society, embodied practices show that “distinctions among unconscious habits, socially patterned behaviors, and freely willed actions disappear” (731). Furthermore, under the premise that collective society only permits an individual to choose their actions “within a given set of possibilities,”  an individual who “actively chooses which action to take,” de Certeau argues, shows “a resistance to the system” (733). Aaaaand we are back to the contradiction we encountered with Butler. If an individual chooses which action to take, doesn’t this entail an individualized and intentionalized agency? Rothenberg points out this problem but I’m still grappling with the way she solves it. According to de Certeau, an individual innovates their actions depending on the options provided to them by the system (back to idiosyncratic normative behavior), helping the individual to seek and realize their own intentions and goals (an illusion, apparently), but that these intentions ultimately amount to nada–goals are not fulfilled and social structures remain unchanged (733). Confused yet? Yay! Me too. To add to the confusion, Rothenberg writes via de Certeau that out of an individual’s innovative actions in the social system–“singularities”–emerges “culture”, culture being a phenomenon that exposes the “cracks” in the social system, unearthing and displacing social tensions while simultaneously providing society with “symbolic balances, contracts or compatibility and compromises, all the more or less temporary” (733).  Differentiating between society and culture? Huh? I’ve always used these terms interchangeably. Rothenberg means social structure and culture. To distinguish the two, Rothenberg cites a couple of de Certeau’s terms: strategies and tactics. Strategies are types of actions that accord with existing social forces and tactics are actions undertaken when presented with an opportunity for resistance during a momentary lapse in the hegemonic social system. I am still not sure how this facilitates recognizing the difference between social structure and culture but Rothenberg does apply de Certeau’s strategies and tactics to the encounter between Roger Riderhood and John Harmon which was helpful in demonstrating de Certeau’s point about intentions amounting to nothing, essentially being meaningless: “intention, position, and outcome contravene one another” (736). Somewhere along the way, Rothenberg faults de Certeau for believing that one’s deviating actions from the social system are the result of “inherent multivocality” or “creative transgression” (737). Instead, the origins of all actions are impossible to determine, especially when attempting to trace the “politically relevant outcomes” of these actions (738).

Fast forward because I’ve rambled long enough. This is what Rothenberg is getting at…her purpose in exposing contradiction and circularity in Butler and de Certeau’s theories is to prove that intentionalism is an illusion for us all, a pretty little lie we keep telling ourselves to keep from realizing that our customary actions really only function like a safety net, entailing our repression of the realization that meaning is unstable, ephemeral, and always changing. Thus, our customary actions serve to protect us from “threats to our [false] sense of stable significance” (743).

Food for thought. I’m stuffed. wah wah wah…

the unmasking of cultural artifacts as socially symbolic acts

June 16, 2014 § Leave a comment

As I painfully, sluggishly work through my summer project–the meaning of hand gestures in Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend–I’ve decided that I am in dire need of a relevant theoretical foundation for my argument/thesis. For the traditional historicist inside me (a consequence of studying literature in a vacuum as an undergrad), this is a challenge. Before my first year of grad school, if I had ever thought of a literary text in terms of macro-politics (which I rarely did), it was in this basic, obvious vein: all literary texts are products of the historical period they are borne out of, exemplifying a totalizing cultural milieu reflected in the text’s literary elements, narrative style, and narrative “universe”. Still, now, I find myself reverting over and over again in my analyses of texts to this mode of interpretation–my current project the living example. I argue that hand gestures in OMF–all 800 plus specific references to them–express numerous socio-political Victorian anxieties, specifically anxieties involving class fractions and economic conditions.

Alright. That’s all fine and dandy. Nothing ground-breaking, really just idiosyncratic in terms of the hand gestures themselves, but other than that this project is heading towards traditional historicist territory. Bleghhh. So I’ve started reading Fredric Jameson’s The Political Unconscious as a potential theoretical guide. A die-hard Marxist, Jameson reiterates his cri de guerra throughout: because we are individuals under a consumer-capitalist system, our ideology regarding…basically anything–our existence, religion, and most important for the present discussion at hand, our habits/methods of interpretation–impairs and “paralyzes” our conceptions of time, change, causality, and language. In other words, capitalist society impairs the way we perceive and therefore construct and organize history (and thus interpret texts in a historical mode). But Jameson isn’t against employing historical interpretations. In fact, he believes historicity is the only way one can interpret a text most, but never wholly, accurately. As he asserts in his preface, “I have tried to maintain an essentially historicist perspective, in which our readings of the past are vitally dependent on our experiences of the present” (11). However, he wants to displace the current historicist method of interpretation (current in the sense of 1981, when this book was published), and replace it with the praxis of a philosophy of history, and if not that, at least a meticulous awareness of a philosophy of history. “A genuine philosophy of history,” writes Jameson, “is capable of respecting the specificity and radical difference of its polemics and passions, its forms, structures, experiences, and struggles, with those of the present day” (my emphasis, 18). Say what?! The way I understand what he means is that one must study history with a self-checking consciousness that acknowledges our debt to our current society, an understanding that no matter how we go about it, we will always project our own (meaning current) ideological conceptions onto the way we construct and read the past. Jameson believes that it is only through Marxism, “the collective struggle to wrest a realm of Freedom from a realm of Necessity,” that we can find the essential mystery of the cultural past (19).

One major conceptual fail in the way we perceive history is our linear perception of it, as well as our categorization and periodization of the past. Instead of demarcating chucks of time into neat periods like “the Renaissance,” “the Enlightenment,” “the Romantic Era,” and so forth, it is imperative that we see the passing of time, History (note: history, with an lowercase “h” is the history we read in texts…texts that are constructed by PEOPLE, meaning it is constructed, excluding, totalitizing, and always, ALWAYS subject to one’s own interpretation–BIASED), as one vast narrative, without an end, without telos, containing only one fundamental theme: class struggle. Class struggle is the underlying foundation to all social aspects and there is absolutely nothing that is untouched by social and historical stuffandthings. Everything is political. I’m rambling and not saying enough. I’m just going to get to the point thus far (I’m only about 30 pages in). Everyday life, any quotidian event or routine, is laden with socio-political content. All actions are socially symbolic acts. But in order to interpret these actions in the best way possible, we must revise our conception of the cultural past. We must go beyond mechanical and expressive causality, which is in a nutshell a cause and effect mindset, the mentality that goes something like “this event happened which therefore effected this phenomenon to emerge”–pretty much the way we make sense of history.

How will I use this for my analysis of anxiety driven, Victorian hands? Still not sure.  The idea that everything is a socially symbolic act is an adequate point of departure. Dickens’s description of hands, at first glance, generate a comical effect, stemming mostly from the fact that he’s so repetitious and idiosyncratic with each character’s specific hand gestures, which results in a surreal-ish effect: really, Twemlow, you’re going to have your hand on your forehead for the entire duration of the Veneerings dinner party? Yep. But what does it mean and why does Dickens’s reiterate the action three times before the end of the chapter? It is a socially symbolic act!


That is all I have to say for now. More later!


Books referenced:

Dickens, Charles. Our Mutual Friend. New York: Penguin, 1997.

Jameson, Fredric. The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act. New York: Cornell UP, 1981.