Ambiguous Discourse: Feminist Narratology & British Women Writers

By Kathy Mezei | Go to book overview

ironies of politeness in anita brookner's hotel du lac

janet giltrow

Hotel du Lac is a romance of a familiar type: an unattached woman, Edith Hope, is courted by a high-status man, Mr. Neville. It is also an ironic romance. For one thing, Edith is herself a writer of romances of this type. She says she writes them on behalf of the timid and negligible, on behalf of women who have no grounds to anticipate such success. Yet her stories are enjoyed by Mrs. Pusey and her daughter Jennifer--fellow hotel guests who are not timid at all but lush and confident in the social and sexual regard that flows their way. Then there is the greater irony that while Mr. Neville's marriage proposal satisfies the terms of Edith's own stories, it in fact demeans rather than promotes the beloved.

And it is not only the story of Hotel du Lac that is ironic. Its style is ironic too--a membrane of refined surfaces stretched over other actualities. Investigating this ironic voice and its replicas of a certain way of speaking, I found in Hotel du Lac dense populations of these linguistic features: (a) presupposing expressions, which assume rather than assert; (b) agentless expressions, which suppress mention of actors; and (c) modality and projection, which assign statements as issuing from contingent conditions. These features travel unrestricted from narration across the threshold of Edith's reported thoughts and speech and other characters' reported thoughts and speech. They are also not immediately explicable in terms of irony.

To prepare to offer, eventually, a glimpse of the ironic profile of these linguistic forms, I will first propose that they contribute to a larger set of expressions: "politeness" expressions. I analyze politeness as including not only courtesies but suppressions too, as well as tacit gestures by which people recognize one another in their range of social distinction, by which people indemnify themselves and sustain advantage. In analyzing polite

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