Feminist Dialogics: A Theory of Failed Community

Feminist Dialogics: A Theory of Failed Community

Feminist Dialogics: A Theory of Failed Community

Feminist Dialogics: A Theory of Failed Community


Feminist Dialogics examines the structure of four novels (Hawthorne's The Blithedale Romance, James's The Golden Bowl, Wharton's The House of Mirth and Chopin's The Awakening) through the lens of Mikhail Bakhtin's critical framework. The author draws on Bakhtin's notion of heteroglossia to show how the interaction of many voices forms the social community of the novel and how the functioning of these voices makes clear statements about the position and fate of women in these specific societies. The novels present dialogic situations in which the women misinterpret their social texts and, therefore, fail to understand their own social power. The four works considered in this study represent the struggle for women's construction of self within a dialogic structure of many competing voices.

Bauer introduces and enters into dialogue with other theorists who are concerned with the social implications of reading and interpretation, including Rene Girard, Wolfgang Iser, Sandra Gilbert, and Susan Gubar, as well as other American feminists. The recurring theme in the novels of this study is the exclusion and rivalry of discourse: the competition among characters for authoritative and interpretive power. Each voice in the novel is a thematization of an ideological perspective and, as such, competes for domination. The conspiracy of voices to exclude the female reflects the social reality as well. This work is an important contribution to literary criticism and feminist theory."


Language is not a prison house; it is an ecosystem.
—Katerina Clark andMichael Holquist in Mikhail

Two examples from Edith Wharton might best serve to introduce the argument of this book, the first from her 1934 short story "Roman Fever." In that work, two women battle each other for social ascendancy; the battle takes place between them, as well as in the dialogues that go on in the minds of each. The story goes as follows: two middle-aged women who had been teenage companions in Rome meet there again accidentally, after their husbands have died, on a restaurant terrace overlooking the Roman Forum. Both women have marriageable daughters who are on a double‐ date, while they sit and reminisce. Their conversation on the terrace leads to a reopening of old wounds, a renewed rivalry, and a series of revelations.

These dialogues reveal the women's misreadings of the patriarchal ground of all of their relations: with each other, with their daughters, with their husbands and lovers, with their own histories. One of Wharton's women says: "'I've come to the conclusion that I don't in the least know what [our daughters] are.... And perhaps we didn't know much more about each other.'" The blank at the center of this knowledge is the Other, and Wharton's story in general suggests that the patriarchy, far from being the natural or originary foundation of human culture, in fact, functions to reduce . . .

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