The self in and through the other : a Bakhtinian approach to Little Dorrit and Middlemarch.
The thesis explores how readings of two nineteenth century English novels, Little Dorrit and Middlemarch, can be enhanced by using key elements of Mikhail Bakhtin’s ‘prosaics’ as a lens through which to examine them. Additionally, the readings are used to provide a platform from which to explore the Bakhtinian notion that language is inextricably connected to selfhood. The Introduction (1.1.) offers a brief discussion on Bakhtin and, in particular, to his formulation of a ‘prosaics’, offered in opposition to traditional linguistics (or ‘poetics’) which, he feels, is unable adequately to do justice to the social, ethical and ideological complexity of a dialogised heteroglossia, such as is found in the novel. An explanation follows (1.2.) of why the ‘word’ should not be conceived of as static lexical element but rather as an ‘utterance’. Invested with both clear and distinct meanings as well as dialogic overtones, the word forms the basis of all human communication. As the primary means of expressing the ‘self’, it cannot be heard in isolation but is always responsive and dependent upon “another’s reaction, another’s word – the two ‘interpenetrating’ the single utterance, establishing, as a result, its specific locus of meaning” (Danow 22). Likewise, it follows that the ‘self’ cannot exist purely in and for the individual but is irrevocably linked to the ‘other’. Chapter Two begins with a discussion on the way in which ‘centripetal’ and ‘centrifugal’ forces work simultaneously to shape language (2.1.). It looks at the Bakhtinian idea that language cannot ever have been monologic and unmediated, being instead ever-changing and evolving as a result of numerous influences brought to bear on it such as context, ideology and the discourses of others. The nature of heteroglossia is discussed (with particular reference to ‘dialogized heteroglossia’), as is ‘hybridization’ in which, although a statement appears to emanate from one voice, another parodic or ironic voice will also be evident in refracted form. 2.2. and 2.3 engage in a detailed analysis of selected passages from Books I and II respectively of Little Dorrit with a view to exploring ways in which a Bakhtinian reading is able to provide heightened appreciation of the text. With particular regard to the overtly parodic style of Dickens, I aim to show how Bakhtin’s prosaics, which militates against privileging one ‘voice’ over another, enables the voice of a relatively neglected character, such as Fanny Dorrit, to be adequately heard. Although the emphasis in this chapter is on language, I broach the Bakhtinian notion that both the ‘word’ and the ‘self’ are inscribed through the ‘other’. In Chapter Three the focus shifts to Middlemarch and to Bakhtin’s notion that selfhood can only be properly located in its dialogic relations to ‘another’. The chapter is offered in four parts, beginning with a brief discussion on some similarities between Bakhtin’s and Eliot’s philosophical thinking, particularly in regard to the ethical nature of the self (3.1.). The next three parts provide detailed thematic analyses of selected passages from Middlemarch. Particular attention is paid to Rosamond Vincy and Tertius Lydgate, whose relationship is explored in some detail. In order adequately to chart their development in the novel I begin by situating each of these characters in his or her various ‘fields of action’, or, as Bakhtin would have it, ‘character zones’. Character zones take into account not only the characters’ direct discourses but also other aspects of their being, including their backgrounds, ideologies and the various attitudes held by both the narrator and other characters towards them (3.2.). The next section (3.3.) explores, in dialogical terms, the rise and fall of Rosamond’s and Lydgate’s difficult alliance and it is suggested that their relationship represents the antithesis of the Bakhtinian notion of ‘finding the self in and through the other’. In the final section (3.4.), Rosamond’s and Lydgate’s possibilities for ‘real becoming’ are canvassed when each enters into dialogic relation with Dorothea Brooke. The Conclusion (4) offers a brief discussion of some of the ways in which the novel, as a genre, is open-ended. As such, it affords ongoing discussion in which completeness and conclusiveness is replaced with unfinalizability because “the final word has not yet been spoken” in the ongoing search for meaning (EaN 30).